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Germany

Green Card Numbers Below Target

Germany's much-touted Green Card program launched four years ago to meet the need for qualified IT workers from abroad has been given to only 17,000 people.

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Germany's first card holder Harianto Wijaya has already left

The Federal Statistics Office in Wiesbaden announced Tuesday that Germany had handed out 17,177 Green Cards for foreign Information Technology experts up to this August.

Some 12,000 of the recipient them received Green Cards for long-term work contracts. The rest, the office said, had short-term work contract and residency permits ranging from one to three months.

According to the authorities, Indian nationals form the largest group among the Green Card holders, amounting to a fourth of the 17,177 experts. They are followed by IT specialists from Romania, Russia, Poland and China. The Green Card program concludes this year.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder unveiled the initiative in March 2000 at the computer fair CeBit in Hanover. The aim was to fill the gap in the German high-tech sector caused by an acute lack of qualified IT specialists in the country. At the time the computer industry was booming and experts estimated around 200,000 qualified personnel would be needed to keep it going.

Weak demand

The first Green Card was awarded in summer 2000 and the German government was hoping to hand out 20,000 in four years.

In the first three years of the program, an estimated 15,000 IT-specialists took Germany up on its offer. But the euphoria soon passed. The technology sector fell on hard times, and that also affected the green card holders. In a wave of bankruptcies and layoffs, many lost their jobs.

The program has also suffered from weak demand, which experts have partly blamed on Germany's sluggish economy, limitations of the Green Card program, bureaucracy and a divisive debate over the need for a new immigration law.

Five years maximum

In April this year, Indonesian-born Harianto Wijaya who gained fame as Germany's first Green Card holder, rattled the government when he said he was leaving.

Though Wijaya had a job at a successful software firm, his original green card, which was limited to five years and five years only, had expired. That meant Wijaya, despite his contributions to the Germany economy, had to pack his bags.

Wijaya, who also finished his Ph.D. while living in Germany, told Deutsche Welle he won't be able to apply the added expertise to the benefit of a Germany company.

"All you get is five years," he said with resignation. "When people like me, work for three years in research, and then realize they'll have to leave, that hurts a little."

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