Thursday, November 1, 2007

*** Germany uses it against Indians

Germany uses it against Indians
The Pioneer:Nov. 1, 2007

The India visit of Germany's Chancellor, Ms Angela Merkel, has doubtlessly further consolidated the cordial relations that already exist between the two countries. Germany had once described India as a 'partner of choice' and the two countries are now striving for a strategic partnership.

Though defence and cultural ties are a part of this, there are, in particular, enormous economic opportunities waiting to be explored. This visit of Ms Angela Merkel -- who has been accompanied by a strong business delegation -- is an attempt in this direction, with science being another thrust area. Germany and India already have significant trade and technology relations -- Germany is among the largest foreign investors in this country -- that can be built upon. There are other aspects to this cooperation, as, for example, through a vibrant though small Indian community in Germany that contributes to its economy.

Yet the full potential of the relationship is somewhat impaired by barriers to the movement of people between the countries. Unhappily, a tight German visa regime ensures that Indians cannot live, work or do business in Germany easily. That country's visa policy was clarified by the German Ambassador immediately prior to the Chancellor's visit when he stated that visas were available to 'highly qualified' Indians. Similarly, Ms Merkel, replying to a question put to her at the post-visit Press conference, suggested that Indians interested in higher education as well as training in technical schools could avail of visas. Regrettably, the bar of the required qualifications is much too high and large categories of otherwise able Indians find themselves unable to meet standards.

It is doubtlessly true that Germany has had lots of problems with guest workers over the years, as also with illegal immigration. In addition, high unemployment rates have made unions strongly oppose foreigners in the workforce; these also become a drain on welfare in bad times. However, much of Germany's troubles with foreign workers have come from Turks or West Asians. Though they have met Germany's need for an additional workforce, they -- and their children -- have had serious difficulties in assimilating, which has been a cause of social unrest. Germany has never had much trouble from the Indian community within it, which, like Indians in other countries, has been a model community whose education, skills and attitude to work have only added value to it.

Despite this contrast, Germany continues to have strikingly different visa policies towards Turkey and West Asian countries, and towards India. There are signs that the German economy will heat up again, and when it does, it will find its shrinking workforce a constraint. Slots at various levels of the economy can be easily filled up, but for this to happen, Germany must take advantage of resources now available globally and ease up its visa policy. What, however, surprises is the attitude of the Indian Government, which spinelessly allows asymmetrical aspects of foreign relations, such as visa regimes, to persist without taking reciprocal action.