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Tuesday, 1 August, 2000, 16:48 GMT 17:48 UK
Germany tackles skills shortage
Computer technicians
German businesses are hoping to lure foreign experts
Germany has launched an initiative to tackle a nationwide shortage of computer experts by granting about 20,000 new work permits to skilled foreigners.

Although there is a global shortage of skilled computer workers, Germany's shortfall is particularly acute due to stringent immigration regulations and a falling population.

Visas will be valid for five years, but are conditional on applicants having excellent university grades or skills, and earning at least DM100,000 ($50,000) a year.

However, despite the urgent need to plug the hi-tech skills gaps, there are fears that the new immigrants might fuel a rising tide of racism and right-wing violence in the country.

A poll published in Die Woche weekly showed that 63% of those asked thought Germany did not need any more immigrants.

The scheme marks the first time Germany has formally opened its doors to economic immigrants since it invited "guest workers" from Turkey and other parts of southern Europe to help rebuild its economy after World War II.

Racism fears

However, many of these earlier migrants faced hostility when they later settled in Germany and raised families.

In recent years high unemployment in the east has fuelled a rising tide of racist attacks including, police believe, last week's Dusseldorf station bomb which injured nine foreigners.

But Harianto Wariya a 25-year old Indonesian graduate from Aachen technology university said he was unconcerned about the racism problem.

Mr Wariya, who became the first person to receive one of the new US-style green cards, said he "felt great" about the scheme.

"The work climate is good and the Germans are very nice... there is no xenophobia here in Aachen," he said.

Despite the racism fears, German businesses have warmly welcomed the move, but say the new scheme is only a beginning.

More needed

The Federation of German Employers says Germany could need as many as 1.5 million further skilled immigrants to stay competitive.

A European Union study, recently suggested that all EU countries should be prepared to admit up to 75,000,000 immigrants over the next 50 years to meet skills shortages caused by falling populations.

A German survey also identified that even if 200,000 more people arrived in Germany than leave each year until 2050, the population would still drop by 12,000,000.

But Labour Minister Walter Riester says the problem of racial violence risks deterring foreign experts from working in Germany, and needs to be urgently addressed.

"I don't see the economic position of Germany endangered, but we really have to do something about it," he said.

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See also:

30 Jul 00 | Media reports
Germany agonises over bomb attack
17 May 00 | South Asia
Germany woos Indian IT
15 Apr 00 | South Asia
India at risk of tech worker shortage
21 Mar 00 | Europe
Stark choice over immigration
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