Business is booming for many industries, but none are booming like the information technology (IT) branch. And with the rapid expansion in IT has come a tremendous demand for skilled workers, a demand that is not being met in Germany. Worried that the current international wave of IT jobs and prosperity will pass the country by, last week German chancellor Gerhard Schröder proposed offering foreign technology specialists a free pass--an "IT green card"--to work in Germany.

Presently, 1.7 million IT employees add 220 billion DM (US$110 billion) yearly to the German economy. And that amount is growing by 8% every year. This rapid expansion has also created a tremendous demand for top IT professionals: Already there are about 75,000 vacancies in German's IT job market. And the number of vacancies is growing because German universities aren't training enough IT professionals. The 5000 students graduating each year in informatics provide only a third of the industrial demand.

According to recent studies, German IT industries could employ up to 350,000 people in the next 3 years, stimulating other branches as well. Provided there is enough manpower. However, "Currently, the growth and employment potential of the IT branch [in Germany] cannot be fully realized, since only an insufficient number of qualified IT professionals is available," Schröder said on occasion of the world-leading IT fair CeBit in Hanover, Germany, last week.

Long-term improvement of the situation might come from a joint initiative of government, trade associations, and trade unions, set up in 1998 to fight unemployment. This "alliance for work" agreed last summer to pay 1 billion DM for vocational retraining in the IT branch and to create 40,000 additional apprenticeships. Although this campaign trains 250,000 additional computer experts until 2005, it offers no solution for the next couple of years.

In hopes of meeting the immediate need for manpower, Schröder announced the introduction of special visa regulations for top foreign IT professionals. The initial request for the new visa, which is comparable to the United States' green card, came from the private IT lobbying group Bitcom, which counts among its members such IT powerhouses as Siemens and Hewlett-Packard.

Details of the green card regulation will be determined by an expert commission for the "recruitment of foreign IT professionals," formed last week by Germany's minister for education and science, Edelgard Bulmahn. The commission will include representatives from the Foreign Office, Home Office, the Federal Ministries of Economics, Labour, and Science, as well as delegates from IT industries and trade unions. The delegates will be asked to determine the qualification profiles demanded by the IT job market and to suggest recruitment strategies. However, there is no doubt that the new regulation aims at granting "top-level" professionals temporary work permits, BMBF's spokesperson Ali Arslan told Next Wave. The first expert meeting is scheduled for March 9, 2000.

The president of the Gesellschaft für Informatik (Association for Informatics, Bonn), Heinrich Mayr, welcomed the IT green card: "This will ease the disastrous situation in the IT job market in a short-term period," he said. However, this action does not solve structural recruitment problems of the German IT industry, Mayr says. He is asking both the government and private industries to plan carefully for the future: "Boosting informatics at the universities and a professional training in the private sector that covers more than just the home requirements have highest priority. There is no other way to fill the 75,000 vacancies of IT professionals in the next years."