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Germany: The Country Opens To Thousands Of Tech Workers

  • Roland Eggleston

The German parliament has approved plans to allow companies to hire up to 20,000 high-technology computer specialists from abroad. The foreign workers are to help boost Germany's computer technology capabilities in industry, banking, medicine, and science. RFE/RL correspondent Roland Eggleston reports that the first applicants could be hired as early as next month.

Munich, 17 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Germany's new law allowing visas for thousands of technically skilled foreigners was initially hailed as a breakthrough in German immigration law. But it is already being criticized as too restrictive and unable to meet the needs of the nation.

The law allows 10,000 computer specialists from outside the European Union to work in Germany for a maximum of five years. If more are needed, an additional 10,000 people will be given permits.

The law was pushed through parliament because industry complained that Germany's own computer specialists are accomplished at routine work but lack the skills needed to develop complex programs. Around 32,000 such technicians are unemployed because they don't have these skills.

The new law comes into effect on August 1. But the president of the German labor office, Bernhard Jagoda, told RFE/RL today that companies should not wait until August before looking for specialists.

"The doors are already open," Jagoda said. "We have already listed 2,700 experts on the Labor Office Internet page and another 6,300 are ready to go on the internet." He said companies that need computer experts can already begin selecting them.

Would-be applicants can apply to German embassies and consulates. They can also apply directly to the government agency responsible for work permits.

The Labor Office has already had inquiries from about 15,000 information technology experts from around the world. Thousands have come from Eastern Europe, as well as India and Pakistan.

Germany has lowered the bureaucratic hurdles faced by those seeking a work permit for Germany. Officials say qualified applicants could have permits approved within three to four weeks.

The main qualification required is a degree from a university or a higher institute of technology. Yet Germany also recognizes that many top programmers do not have university qualifications. So another part of the law allows permits for programmers whose high wages in their own country prove their ability. The definition of high wages was set at $50,000 a year, but Labor Office officials said today they recognize that that figure is unrealistically high for many countries.

A Romanian programmer who works in Bucharest for a U.S. company says he earns $2,000 a month, which by Romanian standards is a very good wage. He has a degree in engineering, which is common in the computer world. "Demanding a local wage of $50,000 as a qualification is a little unreal," he said, adding that top managers would envy such a salary.

Similar criticism comes from India. RFE/RL spoke today with one of the many companies in India that arrange jobs abroad for computer specialists. Dhanunjay Hotapalli, who runs a company in Hyderabad, said that a new graduate at the age of 21 earns about $4,000 a year. A 29-year-old project manager with a degree and several years of experience will earn about $13,000 a year.

"If the law allows German companies to offer $50,000 a year, they will certainly get a flood of applications from India and Pakistan," he said. He said Indians who get jobs in the United States can earn from $50,000 to $100,000 a year, depending on their ability.

The German federal program with its five-year work permit has already sparked competition from some provinces. Bavaria and Hesse are drawing up plans to allow computer specialists to remain in Germany as long as they remain employed. Those plans might also give the right to switch employers.

Many German industrial organizations say the work permit law should be broadened to other industries, and extended to allow for more foreign workers. One research institute estimates that the country will need 100,000 specialists, five times the number being allowed in under the new law. The economics minister of Baden- Wuertemburg said his province alone needs 18,000 programmers.

Many German analysts believe the new law is only a first step. They expect the new immigration law, which the Government hopes to pass before 2002, will open the way into Germany for many more skilled technicians from countries that are not members of the European Union.