Will the EU Welcome IT Skilled Immigrants?

BRUSSELS (03/21/2000) - The European Union has never been known for extending an open arms policy towards immigrants, but faced with a lack of up to 1.7 million people to fill skilled information technology positions, such a stance may well be changing.

Romano Prodi, European Commission President, told a press conference here today that his organization recognizes that failure to rapidly fill those IT jobs will likely undermine the European Union's ongoing efforts to improve its competitiveness and take the global lead in mobile electronic commerce.

"I can't comment on the quantitative aspects, but we want Europe to start attracting people from every part of the world," Prodi said. "I hope Europe will start attracting the highly trained brains we need."

Prodi made his remarks as the Commission and its 15 member states prepare for the special European Council in Lisbon where how to correcting the current IT skills gap will be an essential item on the agenda. His comments reflect that European politicians have finally woken up to the fact that nothing they can do in the medium and long-term to improve training and radically change education policies will fill the IT skills gap existing today.

Last week in Germany, the country's Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder unveiled a new scheme to grant special five-year work visas for up to 30,000 foreign computer specialists expected to come mainly from India and eastern Europe.

The scheme should start operations within three months, with an initial installment of 10,000 work permits.

Europeans seemingly envy the U.S. policy of selective immigration, which continues to attract some of the world's best IT knowledge workers, while the European Union complains about the ongoing "brain drain" which its member states are experiencing. Indeed, the Commission admits that dealing with the skills gap has not been a priority for Europe until now.

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