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Germany: People Answering Call For Foreign Computer Specialists

The German government says it has received an enthusiastic response to its new project of hiring up to 20,000 foreign high-technology specialists to boost the country's computer industry. RFE/RL correspondent Roland Eggleston reports from Munich.

Munich, 31 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- German Labor Minister Walter Riester was due today to issue the first so-called "Green Cards" for computer specialists at a ceremony in Nuremberg. They will allow many companies to select high-technology workers from the thousands who have applied for jobs in Germany.

The federal law providing for hiring the 20,000 high-tech specialists goes into effect tomorrow. It allows 10,000 computer specialists from countries outside the European Union to work in Germany for a maximum of five years. If more are needed, an additional 10,000 workers will be given permits.

Parallel to the federal program, a number of German states have introduced a separate program for what is called a "Blue Card." These have fewer restrictions than the federal permit. For instance, under state programs there is no five-year limit, permitting an expert to remain in Germany as long as he has a job. Bavaria's interior minister, Guenther Beckstein, says the permit will be withdrawn only if the specialist becomes unemployed and needs state assistance to get by.

Germany has thousands of computer technicians of its own, many of whom are actually now out of work. The demand for foreign specialists comes from the computer industry itself, which complains that Germany's technicians are good at routine tasks but lack the extra skills needed to develop the imaginative programs needed to keep the country competitive internationally.

The head of the German labor office, Bernhard Jagoda, told our correspondent that the number of applicants for the federal permits far exceeds the 10,000 posts available in the first round. The labor office alone has received 14,400 applications since March. Another government labor agency in Bonn has received 18,000 inquiries since April. About 9,000 more have made contacts through other agencies.

Jagoda said inquiries have been received from all over the world, including 1,000 each from Pakistan and Algeria. Others have come from Russia, Eastern Europe, the former Yugoslavia, India, and Malaysia. Applicants from India, which has a high reputation for computer skills, are lower than originally expected.

A Romanian applicant, Doina Georgescu, is a computer engineer for a company which does work in Romania for a U.S. firm. She says:

"The wages are better than in a purely Romanian firm. But in this firm I cannot reach my full potential. I hope to work for a German company which will give me an opportunity to develop really sophisticated programs."

Another Romanian who has applied is 44-year-old Dumitru Olteanu, a software specialist from Craiova. He is said to have been the first in Romania to have his own homepage on the World Wide Web. Olteanu recently told an interviewer the German project would finally give him the opportunity to earn a salary for a decent life.

At present, Olteanu and his family live in a one-room apartment in Craiova, which he bought for $10,000 after the downfall of the communist regime 10 years ago. His 16-year-old daughter has a room of her own, but Olteanu and his wife sleep on a couch in the living room.

Olteanu has worked for 19 years developing software in Craiova. At the same time he wrote a thesis for his university doctorate decree, learned five computer program languages, and also learned to speak and read Russian, English, and French. But the money he and his wife Elena earn is barely sufficient for their needs.

German companies which have received applications from abroad say they are often astonished at the qualifications offered. Detlef von Hellfeld, who has his own computer company, says: "I look at their curriculum vitaes and say to myself, how can anyone do so much in a single lifetime?"

Another high-tech specialist who earns such comments is Milan Stefanovic, from the Serbian city of Kragujevac. At 28, he is a software developer and web designer. He went to a U.S. high school and has a degree in information sciences. Stefanovic speaks two foreign languages and can work in four computer programming languages.

The success of the federal program in attracting such well-educated, high-tech specialists has led to demands that other specialists should be given special employment permits. The engineering, banking, and medical industries are among the loudest in their demands, but many others are also interested in hiring better-qualified workers from other countries.

The federal government, led by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, resists these appeals with the argument that work has to be found for Germany's own jobless, who number about 4 million. Schroeder's government is actively pushing a program to train domestic computer specialists so that, eventually, outsiders will not be needed.

But some of the German states which have introduced their own programs for employing foreign computer specialists say they are open to the idea that non-German experts in other areas should also be granted special work permits. But the states also say they want to gain experience with the present programs before extending them to other fields.