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Germany: 'Green Card' Computer Expert Project Proves Successful

The German government is satisfied with the first month of its project to attract foreign computer specialists, known as the "Green Card" operation. But industry and business executives complain that there are still too many restrictions hindering the program. RFE/RL correspondent Roland Eggleston reports from Munich.

Munich, 8 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Germany's Labor Office says that about 10,000 foreign computer experts applied for the Green Card permit in the 30 days after it was introduced on August 1.

A spokesman for the office told RFE/RL today that by the end the month, more than 1,100 of them had been granted a permit to work in Germany. He said other applications are being processed as quickly as possible to meet demands from industry and business.

The official pointed out that German industry has enough experts to do the day-to-day work on computers. What it needs, he said, "are the high-tech experts who have the skills to develop new, imaginative programs for our industry. The foreign experts now coming into Germany should help our own people to develop these skills."

Germany introduced the Green Card program to help its computer industry, which lags behind world standards. The government's plan allows for 10,000 foreign computer specialists to enter the country under much easier terms than are usually applied to workers from eastern Europe and Asia. If there is sufficient demand, an additional 10,000 will be granted permits. The present regulations make the work permits valid for only five years, after which the expert is obliged to leave Germany.

The Labor Office says Green-Card applications have been received from 120 countries. About half of them are from Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Ukraine, and other east European countries. A third are from Asia, including many from India.

Applicant number 10,000 was a U.S. citizen, 31-year-old Holly Cuny, who is a website designer. More than half of all the applicants are under 30, and only one in 10 is a woman.

But while the government is generally satisfied the way its program is developing, it is disappointed that most of the offers for computer experts are coming from prosperous western Germany and very few from the poorer eastern Germany. Only 50 of the 1,144 permits granted in August went to eastern Germany, including Berlin. German business is also dissatisfied with some aspects of the Green Card program. Ralf Bischoff, chief executive of a software company, complained this week that requirements set up by the Labor office were unrealistic and prevented companies from hiring the foreign specialists they need.

One of the biggest complaints concerns the rule that a Green Card holder with a university degree must receive a minimum salary of $30,000 a year. Applicants without a degree from a university or a higher technical college must also be paid relatively high wages.

Bischoff and others in the computer business complain that such wages are too high for many small and medium-sized companies -- especially those in eastern Germany. Bischoff says this is one of the reasons for the small number of Green Cards issued in eastern Germany. He says: "Regions with high average salary levels, such as Frankfurt or Munich, are clearly at an advantage."

The German regulations do allow lower salaries to be paid if the average local salary level is lower. But Bischoff and other computer executives have pointed out that this is meaningless at the moment because local salary levels have not yet been established. They are now trying to persuade the government that they be allowed to fix the wage levels according to the skills and nature of the job done by the foreign computer expert.