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April 2001, Volume 8, Number 4

Germany: Green Cards, Labor

In 2000, crimes aimed against foreigners rose 57 percent over 1999 levels to 3,594. The death of a Mozambican immigrant beaten by skinheads in the eastern city of Dessau was a particularly horrid example. There were some 998 violent far-right crimes in 2000, up 34 percent over 1999 and highest level since 1992-93.

Green Cards/Bosnians. About 5,000 green cards were issued in the first six months of the German green card program, which grants five-year work visas to non-EU computer specialists paid at least DM100,000 a year. In March 2001, some 6,100 foreigners had sent their resumes to the German labor office seeking so-called green cards to work in Germany- about 40 percent were from eastern Europe and 20 percent were from Asia. About 90 percent were men. Half were under 30.

The computer demand-supply gap seems to be widening. BITKOM, the computer association whose plea for foreign labor led to the green card program, said there were 75,000 unfilled IT jobs in February 2000; one year later, BITKOM said there were 440,000 unfilled IT jobs.

As Germany approaches the end of the first 10,000 green cards, there is a debate about expanding the program beyond computers and software. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called the green-card program a great success, citing estimates that each holder creates or sustains three to five German jobs, and said that he favored expanding the program to other industries, including natural sciences. There was a major restructuring in many German labs in the mid-1990s that led to layoffs of natural scientists, and discouraged students from studying physics and chemistry.

There have also been calls for making it easier for foreign students to study in Germany and, after they graduate, to stay in Germany and work. Most observers expect the Immigration Commission to endorse eased entry and work requirements for foreign students.

Asylum. Germany is encouraging the return of Bosnians and Kosovars. Many German leaders have called for permitting those with jobs to remain in Germany, noting that it makes no sense to send home skilled working Bosnians and Kosovars, and then to offer green cards and jobs to foreigners abroad.

In February 2001, it was decided that 10,000 to 20,000 Bosnians in Germany at least six years by February 15, 2001, employed at least two years, and with families that do not receive welfare, can remain. In November 2000, it was decided that Kosovars with jobs could stay until July 31, 2001 if their families left Germany by April 30, 2001. Once a foreigner lives eight years in Germany, he can get an unlimited residence permit.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz has called for rules that would prohibit asylum applicants from engaging in political activities in Germany while their applications are pending. According to Merz, some asylum applicants demonstrate against their home governments in Germany after their applications are rejected in order to create the grounds to receive asylum in Germany. In 2000, there were 78,564 first asylum applications and 39,084 follow-up applications for political asylum. About 80 percent of the applicants who are rejected appeal, and 50 percent file a new application, listing new grounds for asylum.

The average processing time for an asylum application is three months. In the case of a rejection, a follow-up application typically takes an additional three months. SPD leader Cornelie Sonntag-Wolgast agreed that asylum proceedings were sometimes delayed by applicants to create grounds for political asylum and appeals against expulsion and deportation orders.

In February 2001, some 6,220 foreigners applied for asylum in Germany, bringing the total for the first two months of 2001 to 13,805.

Labor. Bernhard Jagoda, head of the labor office, is against expansion, noting that two million of the four million unemployed in Germany are skilled or professional, and that 60,000 older engineers are unemployed; there were 431,000 vacant jobs registered at the end of 2000. Germany has 360,000 people in retraining programs in 2001, including 46,000 in IT.

Jagoda encouraged employers to reduce overtime, create more part-time jobs, and do more retraining- he complained that there are fewer apprenticeship slots in all of Germany in 2001 than there were in West Germany alone in 1989. The number of foreign youth completing apprenticeships has declined.

The Alliance for Jobs, a government-union-employer meeting seeking to reduce unemployment, agreed to try to create more jobs for young people without vocational credentials and for older workers. One proposal is to hire young unemployed workers to fill in for older workers undergoing retraining.

Germany plans to require unemployed workers receiving UI benefits to sign contracts that require them to undertake specific job search and retraining strategies- if the worker does not follow the plan, UI benefits can be cut. In 2000, about 47 percent of the unemployed had been unemployed more than a year.

The OECD criticized Germany for not doing enough to increase the flexibility of its labor market, noting especially that setting wages according to national and regional agreements between employers and unions prevents companies that need to reduce labor costs from doing so. The OECD criticized Germany's spending on labor market programs to train and retrain workers, and spending on programs to keep unemployment in the former east low- both types of programs, according to the OCED, do not achieve their goals.

Between 1997 and 2000, employment rose by 1.4 million in the former west, and shrank by 140,000 in the former east. The employment-population ratios are the same, 44 percent in west and east, suggesting that there must have been considerable east-west migration. Official statistics show it added jobs, but about 1.8 million of them resulted from the requirement that jobs paying DM630 a month or more must be registered and have social security taxes paid on them.

The world's largest union will be Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft (United Services Union, abbreviated to ver.di), a combination of five previously independent unions representing service workers with a total of three million members.

Welfare/Integration. Germany is discussing reform of the welfare system which, according to critics, can give an unemployed couple with two children DM2800 a month-if one parent worked, the family's income would be DM3000.

Germany is debating the proper mix of carrots and sticks to accelerate the integration of resident foreigners. Most proposals call for 600 to 700 hours of German language and civics classes, with the reward of, for example, a long-term residence permit after three instead of five years, or a work permit sooner than one or two years for foreigners coming to join settled family members. Germany currently spends DM320 million a year on German language courses, but they are mostly for ethnic Germans.

Many of those looking to promote integration cite the 1998 Dutch law that requires foreign residents to take Dutch courses or be denied welfare payments.

Bernhard Jagoda, "Dass Fachkraeftemangel herrscht, bezweifle ich," Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, February 25, 2001.