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May 2000, Volume 7, Number 5

Germany: "Green Cards"

Germany continued to debate whether to offer what officials referred to as "green cards" to foreign computer specialists; most observers predicted that more foreign professionals would be entering Germany by summer 2000.

The discussion reopened larger debates over immigration, both within the governing SPD-Green coalition, as well as attacks on the plan from the opposition CDU-CSU and FDP. Business, which is normally allied with the CDU-CSU and FDP, attacked some of the CDU politicians who opposed the proposed temporary work visa.

The person receiving the most criticism was Juergen Ruettgers, the gubernatorial candidate for the CDU in North Rhine-Westphalia state. He made criticism of the SPD-Green plan to offer five-year work permits to up to 20,000 foreign computer specialists the centerpiece of his campaign. Ruettgers' slogan "Kinder statt Inder" --"children instead of Indians"-- was followed up with post cards sent to voters that said Germany needed "mehr Ausbildung statt mehr Einwanderung" or "more training instead of more immigration."

On the other hand, Green Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in March 2000 issued a memo urging German consulates to relax visa restrictions to make it easier for foreign professionals to come to Germany. This prompted SPD Interior Minister Otto Schily to vow to do everything in his power to block a second generation of guest workers from settling in Germany in the 21st century. Schily said he has a clear-eyed recognition that the limits of German tolerance, noting that far-right xenophobic groups in Germany grew 11 percent in the past year to more than 53,000 members. Schily fears that any effort to promote immigration runs a serious risk of provoking a backlash.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder countered with ads in Berlin newspapers saying that foreign professionals were needed until more Germans were trained to fill information-technology jobs. Schroeder said that each foreign IT professional will create three to five additional jobs in Germany. An Indian diplomat in Germany said: "The United States has already taken the cream of our talented computer people. All that remains for the Germans are leftovers."

The Labor Ministry is drawing up regulations for the new program. Under the current draft regulations, non-EU foreigners would not have to have university degrees to work in Germany, they could stay for five years, but they could not bring their families. Of the 700 employer requests for visas for foreign computer professionals between mid-March and mid-April, 46 were for Indians. India has 4.1 million technical and scientific workers, and their number has been increasing by 70,000 computer programmers a year.

The temporary visa proposal has heated up the debate about immigration in Germany, with several prominent CDU leaders distancing themselves from the Ruettgers campaign. Kurt Biedenkopf, frequently identified by pollsters as Germany's most popular politician, says that German leaders have not adequately prepared Germans for a reasoned debate over immigration. Biedenkopf says that it is inevitable that Germany will have to accept immigrants, but that accepting immigrants will be difficult because Europeans expect far more from their governments than Americans.

Newly elected CDU Secretary-General Angela Merkel said that "A society that is growing older naturally needs immigration, an orderly immigration." However, she attacked the ad hoc nature of the decision to admit foreign computer programmers: "First we'll let 20,000 Indians in for the electronics industry, then 20,000 nurses, then whatever comes next. That is not good policy." For more information:

The FDP proposed a comprehensive immigration law, but its proposal was rejected by Interior Minister Otto Schily, who said "There is no need for an immigration law, because, if we had one, the quotas would be zero." Schily added: "more migration cannot be tolerated."

About 7.3 million, 8.9 percent of Germany's 82 million residents, are foreigners, including over a million children born in Germany to foreign parents. Non-EU foreigners are 6.7 percent of German residents.

Germany's GDP is expected to expand by 2.8 percent in 2000, double the 1.4 percent growth of 1999. Unemployment averaged 4.1 million, or 10.2 percent, in 1999, and is expected to fall to 3.4 million, or 8.8 percent, in 2001.

David Wessel and Cecilie Rohwedder, "German Politician Seeks Debate on Immigration," Wall Street Journal, April 4, 2000.