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Wednesday, August 01, 2001, updated at 08:01(GMT+8)

ROUNDUP: German "Green Card" Is One Year Old

"Green card" project, a program adopted by the German government to attract foreign computer specialists, turns one year old on coming August 1.

A total of 8,556 foreign computer experts have come to Germany and become green card holders so far, below the expected number of 10,000 for the planned first green card-year that began on August 1, 2000.

Among the green card holders, Indians account for one-fifth, totaling 1,782. Some 14 percent, and 1,198 computer experts are from the former Soviet Union countries. On the third place are experts from Romania, amounting to 736.

The government decided early last year to launch the Green Card project to make up for the domestic shortfall of computer personal. Germany had some 75,000 vacant computer positions before the launch of the project.

One thing is clear one year after the launch of the project: no panic that many conservatives had feared is caused.

The project encountered many objections among German people. Conservatives deemed that Germany should train local young people to fill the computer job vacancies rather than employ foreigners. In state elections last year, the opposition Christian Democratic Union used as a campaign slogan "Kinder statt Inder," which means "children instead of Indians." But now such voices seemed to have become muted.

The German Federation of Trade Unions also voiced its skepticism over the green card program. Deputy chairman of the federation Ursula Engelen-Kefer attributed the program to the exaggeration of the demand on computer workers by German computer firms. She urged the firms to increase the number of local trainees in information technology instead of employing foreigners and the universities to enlarge the enrollment of information students.

Also many Germans think that the country has too many foreigners to accept more -- Germany has now seven million foreigners, about 9 percent of the population.

With its cool attitude toward foreigners and a reputation of high taxes, Germany is believed not to be an attractive immigration nation.

The program has a test period of two years, aiming at absorbing 20,000 experts from abroad. A greencard holder is allowed to stay in Germany for three to five years. But no one dare say that the planned number would be reached in the next year.

Even many German academics, including computer experts, have moved to the United States, which has made the bringing in of foreign experts inevitable in Germany. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research said that 20 percent of German young academics have gone abroad, first of all to the U.S. The major reason for the brain drain is that it's more difficult for young academics to promote in Germany than in America. Germany goes slowly in reforming its promotion system in universities and research institutions.

Positive echoes come from German computer firms. The foreign specialists, although less than hoped, helped German information firms, especially small ones, to ease their demand on computer experts. Some 66 percent of the greencard-holders were employed by information companies with fewer than 100 employees, president of the Employer Union Dieter Hundt said.

"Last year we had great difficulties in finding employees who were qualified," said Alexander Artope, head of the Berlin-based Internet firm Datango. Now the firm has five foreign experts, who are now backbones of the firm.

"The qualifications we needed are hardly available on the German job market, from all German universities there will be only 5,500 graduates in information technology this year," said Stephan Pfisterer, head of the labor department of the computer firm BITKOM.

Like the computer branch itself, the greencard proposal was designed for speed, a concept foreign to German immigration procedures.

Some politicians deem that the project has made a start for Germany's immigration plan. Not only in information sector, many other sectors lack personal too. The Federal Association of German Industry says that Germany lacks 80,000 people in the food service sector, 50,000 nurses and 40,000 skilled workers in the metal and electrical industry.

The German cabinet will announce later this year new immigration policies to relieve the personal scarce, planning to bring in some 40,000 foreigners to take up permanent residence every year.

German Labor Minister Walter Riester said the greencard project has sparked "a very constructive social discussion" on the new immigration policies. He noted that the greencard project has helped create new jobs such as customer service. For every visa issued to a foreign computer specialist, at least two jobs are created for German workers in support positions, he said.

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"Green card" project, a program adopted by the German government to attract foreign computer specialists, turns one year old on coming August 1.

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