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Germany

Not All That's "Green" Glitters

Three years ago, Indonesian-born Harianto Wijaya was the first to come to Germany with a special green card for highly-skilled computer experts. Now -- disappointed -- he's leaving. Deutsche Welle spoke with him.

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Happier times: German politicians greeted Wijaya upon his arrival.

In August 2001, 25-year-old-Indonesian-born Harianto Wijaya arrived in Germany to much fanfare. Newspaper photographers were on hand to capture the moment, as German politicians greeted Wijaya personally, shaking his hand and smiling pretty for the cameras.

He was the first foreigner to arrive in Germany as part of a special program to give 20,000 highly skilled computer and technology experts green cards. "I feel totally happy," said Wijaya, who studied in Germany.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder got the ball rolling in 2000, when he proposed the scheme to attract skilled workers from abroad. At the time, the computer sector was booming, and experts estimated an additional 70,000 workers would be needed to keep it going -- a demand the home-grown German labor market could not meet. Thus, thousands would be recruited from oversees, namely from Asian cities like Bangalore, India. "The chance of a lifetime," proclaimed billboards advertising the program.

The IT sector falls on hard times

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. In fact, in Munich, a city with a heavy concentration of tech companies, one in seven green card holders became unemployed.

There's the rub: Without a job, green card holders were not granted residency. Sadly, many soon learned this first hand. Fortunately for Wijaya, he was spared. His company, a small software firm, was a success, thanks partly to his hard work. But now Wijaya is facing another problem many green card holders are familiar with: His original green card was limited to five years, and five years only. That means Wijaya, despite his contributions to the Germany economy, will have to pack his bags.

Sorry, but five year's the deal

Harianto Wijaya also finished his Ph.D. while living in Germany, but he won't be able to apply the added expertise to the benefit of a Germany company. "All you get is five years," he now says with resignation. "When people like me, work for three years in research, and then realize they'll have to leave, that hurts a little."

Five years and not a day more -- that was not how things were supposed to be. The governing coalition of Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens planned to push through a sweeping new immigration law in 2001, which included provisions allowing the green card holders to extend their stay in Germany and eventually obtain permanent residency.

However, the Bundesrat, the second chamber of Parliament representing the states and dominated by the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) opposition, rejected the legislation in June, sending representatives from both sides of the political spectrum back to the drawing board to hammer out a compromise. Months later, they are still working on it, and the highly sensitive issue has proven to be a political minefield.

Off to America

Even if, as hoped, the governing coalition and opposition manage to reach a compromise soon, it will be too late for Harianto Wijaya. He's already packed his bags and applied for another green card, this one an unlimited one for the United States.

"I have to laugh, because I studied in Germany and made it all the way to finishing a Ph.D.," he says. "I also have German work experience, and now with this German work experience, I'll have an easier time finding work in the U.S., as the Americans respect the Germans. So, maybe I won't cry about it, but I am disappointed." Meanwhile, Wijaya's green card has become a historical document and is archived at the German House of History ("Haus der Geschichte") in Bonn -- a symbol of missed opportunity.

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