After a year, Germany’s IT ‘Green Card’ fails to flower

A year after Germany introduced its much-ballyhooed plan to attract IT experts to the country through a special work visa scheme, the program has yet to make a major dent in the industry’s labor shortage.

The so-called “Green Card,” named after the residence permits granted to foreigners by the United States, was introduced on Aug. 1, 2000. Since then, 8,688 of the permits have been issued, according to the country’s labour ministry.

That falls far short of the up to 20,000 Green Cards permitted under the new law, and comes nowhere near the labor shortage of 444,000 specialists estimated by Germany’s leading IT industry association BITKOM (Bundesverband Informationswirtschaft, Telekommunikation und neue Medien). The group says the number of unclaimed jobs in the industry will rise to 723,000 in 2003.

But BITKOM is putting a positive spin on the Green Card’s first year.

“The biggest reason we think it’s good is because we’ve brought more new IT experts to Germany than the entire educational system,” said spokeswoman Elke Siedhoff. Fewer than 6,000 new graduates will earn computer science degrees in Germany this year, she said. “When you compare that, you can really call it a success.”

She added that for each highly-skilled IT expert employed in the country, an additional two or three positions are created – some in IT, others not – meaning the Green Cards issued so far account for at least 20,000 more new jobs.

But critics say the German Green Card is a weak competitor to the opportunities offered to IT experts in other countries, notably the United States. The law only allows for a stay of up to five years, and an employee’s family members, while they may come to Germany, are not allowed to work.

BITKOM is hoping those two limitations will be lifted in the future.

“Those were our two main points of criticism, and they were compromises” accepted in order to get the legislation passed, said Siedhoff. But she added that she is confident the problem will come under new scrutiny in the broader debate over more liberal immigration laws currently under way in Germany.

Of the Green Card holders so far, the largest single group, 1,804, are Indians, the Labor Ministry said. A further 1,217 of the permits went to citizens of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and the Baltic countries, with other former East Bloc countries also well represented, and a handful of Pakistanis, North Africans, and South Americans joining the mix.

BITKOM, in Berlin, can be reached at

. The German labour ministry, also in Berlin, is at