Europe's largest economy has the greatest shortage of IT specialists - Germany.
Harianto Wijaya, right, computer specialist from Indonesia
Germany’s green card programme has been running for over a year. The green card project offers 20 000 foreign computer specialists the opportunity of unrestricted employment in Germany for 5 years.
The programme was started in August 2000. And many foreign IT experts have applied to German employers since then. So far, 8500 specialists have actually started work in Germany as a result of the scheme.
For the successful applicant, there are many problems to contend with. A different lifestyle, a different culture, and for many, a difficult language. Above all, green card holders have had to get used to a different way of life by moving to Germany. Many insights have been gained since the introduction of the green card scheme.
While hiring personnel from overseas has helped to overcome the shortage of IT experts in Germany, some of the employers as well as some of the foreign employees have complained about the bureaucratic hurdles involved .
The green card scheme was designed to make the process of gaining employment easier to handle for foreign nationals. The necessary paperwork for example, should now take only a week to process, instead of nine months, as before.
Experiences with the new regulations differ. The internet company Mercateo in Munich, for instance, employs 60 people - more than half of those are foreign nationals. They are from 15 different countries spanning four continents. For Mercateo, the bureaucracy involved in employing people from overseas means a lot of extra work.
"You have to assign an employee to keep in touch with the authorities, who keeps track of developments and who makes sure the necessary paperwork is taken care of," says Harald Fett, managing director of Mercateo. " And when they're not from the European Union, it takes an enormous amount of extra time and effort." Nevertheless, Harald Fett thinks the situation is improving.
Mercateo received more than 70 inquiries from prospective foreign employees within weeks of the introduction of the green card programme.
Salman Mahmood has managed to overcome the bureaucratic hurdles. He has been working with Mercateo since March 2000. He worked in London and New York before coming here. But the bureaucracy is not the only problem he faces in Germany. "I find that people's attitudes are a problem", Mahmood says. "You don't see many friendly faces here. That was completely different in England and the US. If that doesn’t change, foreign experts just won't want to come to work in Germany."
The Telecommunications giant Ericsson Deutschland GmbH, has had more positive experiences with the green card scheme. "The situation has improved since the new regulations have come into effect", says Bettina Karsten from Human Resources. "We used to wait for months for the proper papers, and now we have them in one or two weeks".
Deniz Yilmaz is one of the first employees to be working with a green card at Ericsson. For her, the new regulations came as a pleasant surprise. "When I graduated in Istanbul, relatives who live in Germany told me about the green card and I applied. It wasn’t difficult, because the company took care of most of the paperwork." Adapting to life in Germany didn’t pose too many problems either. Her relatives speak English and German.
Life in Germany isn’t too bad, even if you are not that fortunate. "You will get around in Germany, even if you do not speak German at first", says Vladimir Milosevic. He must know, since he has lived in Düsseldorf for the past three months. When he arrived, he did not speak any German. He found his job at Ericsson on the internet. You won’t have trouble finding people who speak English in the cities, if your are shopping or if you have to deal with the public administration, says Milosevic.
Milosevic, who is from former Yugoslavia, is glad to be able to work in Germany. "It s a well organised country and the standard of living is much better than in Eastern Europe." He would rather work in Germany than the United Staates, or other "classic" immigration countries.
Bettina Karsten, human resources manager at Ericsson, helps foreign employees on their feet with the paperwork and all the other things they have to go through when they arrive in Germany. Her work is much easier now that the green card scheme is in place. "Once we have decided to take someone on, it takes no more than two weeks to take care of the necessary formalities before they can get to work," Karsten says.
"The demand for qualified IT experts cannot be met at the moment," according to Karsten. The companies are competing for the experts. Therefore the experts can pick and choose – and their decision may not be down to the salary alone. "It is important that they feel at home with the company, that they feel welcome and that the people in their work environment respect them."
She offers advice to people who are considering working in Germany on a green card: "Ask yourself: what do I want out of it? You will spend a lot of time working, but there are other considerations too. Do some research, and go beyond watching the news. Talk to people of your own nationality who live in Germany. If you want to take your partner and/or your children with you, get them involved in the decision-making process. It is unlikely that your partner will be able to work. Will he or she be able to cope with that and with life in a foreign country?"