Skip to navigation
Skip to main content
German Green Cards: Solution, Stopgap, or Symbol? -- Philip Martin
February 18, 2001
From Dual Nationality to Green Cards......................................................................................... 2
German Green Cards.................................................................................................................................... 4
US Green Cards................................................................................................................................................. 5
US Nonimmigrant H-1Bs............................................................................................................................... 6
From Green Cards to Immigration?.................................................................................................. 9
Appendix 1. Nonimmigrant US Data, 1990-96................................................................................ 11
This compromise pushed immigration off the front pages. But in February 2000, the computer association BITKOM asked the German government to allow the entry of up to 30,000 foreign professionals to help fill what BITKOM said were 75,000 vacant jobs for computer programmers. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder responded positively, proposing what he called a "green card" program that allows non-EU foreigners to enter Germany for up to five years. The green card program, it was hoped, would help to highlight the benefits of foreigners. The opposition once made opposition to green cards the centerpiece of its campaign in a state election, using the slogan "Kinder statt Inder" (children instead of Indians) to argue that Germans should have more children and train them instead of importing high-tech workers from India.
This time the opposition campaign failed, and the first green cards were issued August 1, 2000. An average 200 green cards a week have been issued, or about 5,000 in the first six months.
In the meantime, a 21-member commission is considering proposals for a 21st century immigration policy for Germany. When the commission releases its recommendations in June 2001, it is likely to acknowledge that Germany has become a country of immigration. However, it is not clear whether the commission will embrace a US-style quota system that anticipates a certain level of family and economic immigration each year.
From Dual Nationality to Green Cards
The controversial provision of the SPD-Green proposal was that foreigenrs could keep their original citizenship when they became naturalized Germans. This was expected to encourage e.g. Turks to become naturalized Germans, because they could still retain the inheritance and property rights restricted to Turkish nationals. Interior Minister Otto Schily argued that routine dual nationality was necessary for integration: "The new citizenship law is a contribution to inner peace in our land... Foreigners who have lived here a long time work hard. They pay taxes. They create jobs.... We would really be very badly advised if we left these people as so-called second class citizens... The vast majority of these people are going to stay here permanently. We can no longer afford to treat them as foreigners outside state society...Of the 7.3 million foreigners living in Germany, 50 percent have been here for at least 10 years and 20 percent for 30 years."
The opposition CDU-CSU opposed dual nationality. Wolfgang Schaeuble, chairman of the Christian Democratic Union, said: "The regular acceptance of double citizenship is poison for integration as well as for inner peace." According to polls, most Germans agreed with the CDU—63 percent opposed dual nationality. in January 1999. The CDU launched a signature gathering campaign against dual nationality, and used this campaign to defeat the SPD-Green government in a state election in Hesse in February 1999. This forced the SPD-Green federal coalition to modify its dual nationality proposal, under which babies born in Germany to foreign parents would be considered German nationals as well as nationals of their parents' country until age 23, when they would lose German nationality if they did not affirmatively select it.
Immigration then slipped from the front pages until February 2000, when BITKOM asked for non-EU foreign professionals. Much of the initial debate over green cards occurred within the Schroeder cabinet, where ministers had "yes," "yes but," and "no" reactions. The yes proponents included federal Minister of Education and Research Edelgard Bulmahn (SPD), who said: "We cannot allow companies to move abroad because of the shortage of highly skilled personnel in information technology." Her ministry agrees with BITKOM that there will be openings for 60,000 IT workers a year, but only 10,000 computer-science students are expected to graduate in Germany each year. Economy Minister Werner Müller highlighted the job-multiplying aspects of foreign professionals with the following example: "If you need a pianist, you can't just hire a piano tuner. But when you employ a new pianist, you'll also need additional piano tuners."
The yes-but camp was illustrated by the leader of the SPD in Bavaria, who said that German companies should be allowed to import non-EU computer workers only if they also stepped up their efforts to train unemployed and young Germans for computer jobs. About 4,000 students studied computer science in 1994/95, compared to 11,000 in 1999/00.
The opponents of the proposal included Labor Minister Walter Riester (SPD), who said: "We cannot allow a general international opening of the job market. We have over four million unemployed people, among them very qualified people in the information technology field;" there were 31,000 unemployed IT workers in December 1999. Riester noted that German employers could already hire foreign professionals, and that 580 work permits were issued to foreign professionals in 1998, but only after German employers were able to convince the labor department that German or EU workers were not available. Some German unions echoed a common complaint heard in the US—German IT companies prefer to hire only recent graduates who are familiar with the latest software and are willing to work long hours.
Public opinion polls reported that most Germans opposed admitting foreign professionals, many of whom were expected to come from India, the source of many temporary foreign computer specialists employed in Canada, the US, and the UK. A March 2000 poll reported that 56 percent of Germans opposed the green-card proposal; 37 percent supported it.
These poll data encouraged the opposition parties, the CDU and CSU, to strongly oppose the green card proposal, even though they usually support business, which favors easier access for foreign workers. Their opposition was crystallized by the CDU candidate premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, former federal technology minister Juergen Ruettgers, who made opposition to the green card program the centerpiece of his spring 2000 campaign. Ruettgers asserted that Germans preferred "Kinder statt Inder" (children instead of Indians), and sent postcards to voters asserting that Germany needed "mehr Ausbildung statt mehr Einwanderung" or "more training instead of more immigration."
Ruettgers hoped to repeat the success the CDU had in Hesse in February 1999, when opposition to the SPD-Green government's proposed dual nationality law was the centerpiece of the CDU election campaign, and the CDU mobilized a massive signature campaign against the federal government's proposal to permit foreigners becoming naturalized Germans to routinely keep their old passports. In exit polls, opposition to the government's dual nationality proposal was second only to worries about unemployment, and the CDU victory caused the SPD-Green federal government to lose its majority in the 69-vote Bundesrat, which needed to approve the dual nationality legislation.
The SPD-Green federal government modified its dual nationality proposal, replacing routine dual nationality with an option model. Under the option model, the 100,000 children born to foreign parents in Germany each year will be considered German as well as the nationality of their parents until age 23 if one of their parents lived legally in Germany for at least eight years. At age 23, these children born in Germany lose German nationality unless they give up the nationality of their parents.
However, Ruettgers did not improve his party's showing in the May 14, 2000 election in North Rhine-Westphalia despite a campaign centered on opposition to green cards. The CDU won 37 percent of the vote; the SPD, 43 percent; the FDP received 10 percent; and the Greens seven percent. North Rhine-Westphalia has 18 million residents, more than the former East Germany, and the results may presage the outcome of the national election scheduled for 2002.
German Green Cards
The green card program approved by the German cabinet in May 2000 will have far more government involvement then similar programs in other industrial democracies. The Zentralstelle für Arbeitsvermittlung (ZAV) in Bonn was designated as the labor broker—it collects job offers from employers and resumes from foreigners who want to work in Germany, and then helps to match employers and foreigners. The jobs fillled by green card holders must pay at least DM100,000 ($47,000) a year.
The foreigners selected by German employers can enter Germany with their families with three-year work visas beginning August 1, 2000; their visas can be extended for another two years. Family members may accompany them to Germany, but if family members want to work, they must secure work permits of their own. At present, the average wait for work permits for family reunification immigrants is four years. In order to get foreign professionals into German jobs quickly, it was announced that work and residence permits would be issued within two to six weeks after ZAV approval.
After the first 10,000 foreigners arrive with green cards, the government will evaluate the program to determine if there is still a labor shortage and if German IT employers are on track to keep their promise to double the number of apprenticeship slots from the current 30,000 to 60,000 by 2003. To train more German workers for high-tech jobs, the government allocated an additional DM 200 million, bringing spending to DM 1.2 billion annually.
Many other German industries, including biotech, construction, and hospitals and nursing homes, asked for expedited access to non-EU foreign professionals. Thus, non-EU foreigners for IT may be the first in a new series of guest-worker programs. Many business leaders asked that the DM 100,000 minimum annual salary be reduced to the level above which German employees may elect to buy private health insurance rather than participate in the usual employee health system (Krankenkasse), DM75,000 in the west and DM65,000 in the east. The German Industrial Association said that Germany should also import blue collar craftsmen: the GIA said that Germany would be short 300,000 skilled craftsmen by 2003.
German universities want to use the green card discussion to liberalize current requirements that require most foreign students to return to their country of origin after graduation following a maximum 90 days of work in Germany. The 165,994 foreign students enrolled in German institutions of higher education in 1998/99 were about nine percent of all students enrolled; two-thirds of the foreign students were from Europe, and thus most of them were eligible to remain and work in Germany as EU nationals if they wished.
US Green Cards
There are five major types of green-card immigrants (Martin and Midgley, 1999). In FY97, there were:
·321,000 immediate relatives of US citizens, including 170,300 spouses, 74,100 parents and 76,600 children.
·213,300 family-sponsored immigrants, including 113,700 spouses and children of legal immigrants; 55,200 siblings of US citizens; 21,900 married sons and daughters of US citizens; and 22,500 unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens.
·102,100 refugees were adjusted to immigrant status, and 10,100 asylum applicants were recognized as refugees and permitted to remain in the US (refugees must be in the US one year before they can adjust to immigrant status).
·90,600 employment-based immigrants (including family members); they included: 42,600 skilled and professional workers; 21,800 priority workers; 17,100 professionals with advanced degrees; 7,800 special (unskilled) immigrants; and 1,400 employment-creation investors.
·49,400 diversity immigrants, or foreigners who won the right to immigrate to the US in an annual lottery.
Most of the foreigners who receive immigrant visas are already in the US when their green cards become available: 418,000 or 52 percent were in the US and adjusted from another status to immigrant, and 380,700 were new arrivals. This is especially true for immigrants who get green cards because they are filling vacant jobs, i.e. they are being sponsored for admission by US employers. For example, of the 1,800 outstanding professors and researchers admitted as immigrants in FY98, about 98 percent were already in the US and adjusted their status from foreign worker or student or illegal to immigrant. Even among the 2,700 unskilled foreigners admitted as immigrants because they were needed workers, 82 percent were in the US and adjusted their status.
US Nonimmigrant H-1Bs
The US has 20 nonimmigrant programs that admit foreigners who can work in the US; they are issued combined work and residence visas that range from A for ambassadors to TN for NAFTA professionals. About 14 of these nonimmigrant visa categories permit foreigners to be employed by US employers for US wages, that is, they are nonimmigrant visas that lead to the foreign workers being considered US workers in the US labor market-- there were about 400,000 such worker admissions in FY96, the most recent data available. An additional 600,000 foreigners were admitted as students or exchange visitors; many of them are also permitted to work in the US labor market.
The US system for admitting foreigners for economic or employment reasons was changed by the Immigration Act of 1990 (IMMACT). Before IMMACT, most foreign workers were admitted only after a certification process, which means that an employer wanting to hire a foreigner to fill a job had to prove to the US Department of Labor (DOL) that: (1) the employer tried and failed to find US workers despite offering a DOL-set wage; and (2) that the presence of foreign workers would not "adversely affect" similar US workers.
The border gates remained closed to foreign workers until the certification process was completed, and the admission of foreign workers was sometimes held up by bureaucratic delays as well as protests by unions. Unions or the Employment Service sometimes sent unemployed workers to fill the jobs, the employer would say the US workers were not qualified, and the result would be litigation over whether the worker was qualified or not, with judges often issuing injunctions ordering the foreign workers to be admitted so that, for example, the apples would not rot on the ground.
The 1990 IMMACT introduced a new concept for the admission of temporary foreign professionals called attestation. Attestation allows US employers who have found a foreign professional they want to employ as a guest worker to assert or attest that they tried to find US workers and failed. Filing the attestation or Labor Condition Application with DOL, in which the employer promises to pay the foreign professional the prevailing wage for the job and certifies that there is no strike in progress, is sufficient to open the border gates to the foreigner. No government agency inspects the employer or interviews US workers before the foreign professional arrives; any enforcement is done in response to complaints after the foreigner is in the US.
In exchange for this easier entry process, unions won a 65,000 a year cap on the number of foreign professionals, those with a BA degree or more, admitted via attestation to fill a US job that requires a BA degree. These foreign professionals receive renewable three-year H-1B visas; their spouses and children receive H-4 visas. In FY96, there were about 163,000 H-work visa admissions, and 50,000 H-4 dependent visa admissions.
The attestation procedure used to admit H-1B foreign professionals proved to be very popular with US employers, and they used up all 65,000 visas before the year ran out in 1997. The IT sector mounted an effort to raise the annual ceiling, and Congress, responding to pleas that more programmers were needed because of the Y2K problem, approved the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 which raised the cap to 115,000 in FY99 and FY00 and 107,500 in FY01. Even this higher cap has proved to be insufficient, with the 115,000 visas gone before the end of 2000, and Congress in 2000 agreed to raise the cap further, to 195,000 a year.
Many high-tech firms are calling for a complete elimination of the cap on foreign professionals admitted under attestation procedures. They cite Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who in February 2000, said: "The benefits of bringing in people to do the work here, rather than doing the work elsewhere, to me, should be pretty self-evident." (Migration News, March 2000)
Congressional leaders and others listen carefully when Bill Gates of Microsoft and Andy Grove of Intel call for more H-1B workers. But the H-1B program is very controversial (Lowell, 1999). US critics of the program make three arguments:
1. Preference for Youth. Many US employers want young and fresh graduates willing to work long hours for relatively low wages. Foreigners who study in the US can be recruited easily at US universities, or be employed as interns while they are students, and US employers are eager to hire them because they are smart and willing to work very hard in the hope that the US employer will sponsor them for a green card or immigrant status. It is often alleged that US computer firms that hire less than five percent of the applications they receive, and leave jobs vacant rather than fill them with workers who do not have precisely the right skills, are guilty of age discrimination when they prefer a 22-year old Chinese or Indian programmer to a 50-year old engineer laid off from a defense company.
1. Displacement/Wages. Entry procedures for foreign professionals were simplified in the H-1B program because it was assumed that US employers would hired foreign computer professionals only after they had searched the US job market; in any event, it was assumed that US workers with BA degrees would be able to complain if they saw employers hiring foreigners when Americans were available. However, many of the same displacement and wage depression issues that arise in the unskilled labor market have also arisen with professionals.
US employers do not have to prove that they first tried to recruit Americans; indeed, most US employers are allowed to lay off US workers and replace them with cheaper foreigners (U.S. Department of Labor, 1996). When he was the labor secretary, Robert B. Reich, testified that: "We have seen numerous instances in which American businesses have brought in foreign skilled workers after having laid off skilled American workers, simply because they can get the foreign workers more cheaply. [The H-1B program] has become a major means of circumventing the costs of paying skilled American workers or the costs of training them."
US employers are required to offer H-1B foreigners "prevailing wages." The range of prevailing wages is wide, e.g. $40,000 to $80,000 a year, so that a company can report it is paying the "prevailing wage" when whether it is at the low or high end of the wage range.
2. Merchants of Labor. Many guest worker programs quickly become the domain of a handful of firms and nationalities. In the US, many Indian-Americans have set up so-called body shops, firms that recruit and bring into the US Indian programmers and then send them out to US jobs that last for one to 12 months. The attestations filed by a US employer such as Tata Consultancy Services promise to pay H-1B workers the prevailing wage, which is $50,000 to $60,000 a year, but each of the body shops has separate contracts with individual programmers that, after deductions for transportation, living costs, and other fees, can reduce earnings far below this level. Most body shops have 50 to 80 percent H-1B workers among their 500 to 2,000 employees.
About half of the H-1B visas are issued to Indians, and most of them come from three schools in India that use US-style teaching methods. The popularity of the H-1B visa as a stepping stone to US immigrant status has become so well known that marriage ads in India highlight the fact that a prospective bridegroom has an H-1B visa, which is considered a major plus in the Indian marriage market.
In 1998, the H-1B program was revised: the annual limit on the number of H-1B visas available was raised from 65,000 to 115,000, and there were two important changes aimed at curbing employer abuses. First, beginning in 1999, US employers requesting H-1B workers must pay a $110 administration fee and a $500 visa fee for each H-1B application or renewal—the $500 fees generated $41 million in 1998-99 which are used for $2500-a-year scholarships for American students to encourage them to learn programming and thus eliminate the need for H-1B workers in the future.
The play-or-pay fee is an effort to persuade US firms to train US workers or to pay so that colleges and universities provide the training, but many critics consider the visa fee far too low—they prefer a fee of $5,000 to $10,000. Most US employers hire lawyers to prepare H-1B applications; immigration lawyers charge $1000 to $2000 per application.
Second, body shops—firms that have 15 percent or more H-1B workers among their employees—must include in their attestations a statement hat they did not lay off US workers to open jobs for the H-1B workers, and that they attempted to recruit US workers. Only about 60 percent of the H-1B visas go to workers employed in high-tech; the other visas go to foreigners in many other professions, including teaching, fashion models, and photographers.
H-1B visas are often seen in India, China, and other countries as a side door to US immigrant status. H-1B visas are one of the few US visas available to intending immigrants, meaning that an Indian or Chinese applicant can tell the US consular officer in India or China that he wants to come to the US to work and eventually to settle; once in the US, he can find a US employer to sponsor him for immigrant status. Most H-1B workers leave the jobs they were brought into the US to fill as soon as they become legal immigrants.
From Green Cards to Immigration?
The coalition government that governed Germany between 1982 and 1998 was dominated by the CDU-CSU, parties that wanted to maintain the immigration status quo, which says: "Deutschland ist kein Einwanderungsland." (Germany is not a country of immigration). Critics argued that this policy did not prevent Germany's foreign population from increasing, but has prevented planning for immigration and encouraging the integration of settled foreigners (Bade, 1994). The CDU-CSU coalition partner, the FDP, argued for a quota-based immigration system linked to more integration assistance.
The SPD and Greens offered proposals and principles for the reform of immigration policy that would have formalized immigration criteria and expedited naturalization. Only the Green proposal was introduced as legislation, and it went no where until after the 1998 elections (Martin, 1998).
There is little sign that the public has become more receptive to immigrants, which signals more debate and contention rather than a quick consensus. The CDU-CSU-FDP opposition said that the green-card program should be part of comprehensive immigration legislation that lays out "clear rules" on family unification, more restrictions on asylum and faster deportation, with the CSU calling for an end to the constitutional right of an individual to seek asylum. The Greens immediately countered that they would be happy to discuss a new immigration law, but that German asylum law could not be changed.
The argument of the opposition parties demanding major changes in German immigration and asylum policy runs as follows. Germany now receives about 300,000 newcomers a year: 100,000 asylum seekers, 100,000 ethnic Germans, and 100,000 family unification immigrants. Instead of taking newcomers who need Germany, they argue, Germany should be attracting newcomers that it needs, such as professionals and craftsmen. The way to do this without increasing overall immigration, they argue, is to further restrict asylum and to limit family unification.
When the FDP reintroduced a comprehensive immigration law proposal in May 2000 that included an annual immigration quota tied to unemployment levels and integration capacity, the governing SPD-Greens led an effort to reject it, with Interior Minister Otto Schily saying: "There is no need for an immigration law, because, if we had one, the quotas would be zero." The Greens called for an integration law to set the stage for an immigration law.
However, the tide may be turning. President Johannes Rau, formerly an SPD leader, in May 2000 used the annual "Berlin Speech" to urge Germans to accept the fact that Germany is becoming a multinational society that has and will continue to receive immigrants. The CDU released a position paper on immigration on November 6, 2000 that included a call for more immigration and for foreigners to conform to a German Leitkultur: "The question now is not 'Immigration: yes, or no?' but 'Immigration: as unregulated as before or regulated and limited?"
Interior Minister Otto Schily apppointed 21-member Immigration Commission to make recommendations on the shape of a comprehensive immigration law for Germany. If the multi-party commission reaches consensus, the SPD-Green government will likely introduce immigration legislation in the Bundestag. Many experts argue that Germany needs additional immigrants, some 300,000 to 500,000 a year, simply to maintain its labor force. Others emphasize that the unemployment rate of foreigners in Germany is 20 to 28 percent, and that 30 percent of the foreign youth in Germany do not finish secondary school, so that simply adding more foreigners might increase unemployment and integration problems.
Opinion polls suggest that there is still considerable public opposition to an immigration law with quotas. Public support for an immigration law with annual quotas peaked at 54 percent in 1996; in 2000, 37 percent said they favored such a law, and 40 percent were opposed. A poll released by Emnid Institute in October 2000 found that 66 percent of respondents thought immigration was "too high and has exceeded the limits of what is bearable." About 75 percent of those polled believed that Germany's asylum policies should be changed to limit the maximum stay for a refugee to nine months.
Lowell, Lindsay. 1999. Skilled Temporary Specialty Workers in the United States. People and Place. Vol 7. No. 1. 24-32.
Martin, Philip L. 1998. Germany: Reluctant Land of Immigration. Washington. DC. American Institute for Contemporary German Studies. September. http://www.aicgs.org
Martin, Philip L. and Elizabeth Midgley. 1999. Immigration to the United States. Washington D.C. Population Reference Bureau. Vol 54, No 2. June. http://www.prb.org
U.S. Department of Labor. Office of the Inspector General. 1996. The Department of Labor's Foreign Labor Certification Programs. The System Is Broken and Needs to Be Fixed. Report No. 06-96-002-03-321. May 22. http://www.oig.dol.gov/public/reports/oa/1996/foreign_labor_cert.pdf
Appendix 1. Nonimmigrant US Data, 1990-96
Category/Fiscal Year ending September 30
Treaty Traders(includes families)
Students and Dependents
F1 Academic Students
M1 Vocational Students
Reps of International Orgs G1 to G5)
G4 International Org employees
Temporary Workers and Trainees
H1A Registered Nurses
H1B Specialty Occupations
H2B Nonfarm Workers
H3 Industrial Trainees
O1 Extraordinary Ability Workers
O2 Assistants of O1
P1 Int'l Recog Athletes and Entertainers
P2 Other Artists/Entertainers-Reciprocal
P3 Artists/Entertainers-Unique Culture
Q1 Int'l Culture Exchange Programs
Spouses and Children of Temp Workers/Trainees
H4: families of H1, H2, H3 workers
O3: families of O1, O2
P4: families of P1, P2, P3
R2: families of R1(
I1 Foreign Media Reps(includes families)
J1 Exchange Visitors
J2: Exchange Visitor Families
L1 Intracompany transfers
L2: families of Intracompany Transfers
TC NAFTA Professionals
TD: families of TN
Subtotal: Foreign Workers: H, L, TC/TN
Subtotal: Foreign Students, Exchange Visitors
Source: INS Statistical Yearbook, 1996. Persons admitted several times are double counted