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Austria also mulls jumping onto IT hiring bandwagon

By R. Senthilnathan, India Abroad News Service

Vienna, April 11 -- Following in Germany's footsteps, Austrian officials have begun to consider bringing in thousands of foreign information technology (IT) experts, prompting protests from the vocal far-right in the country.

Brigitte Ederer, the Social Democratic financial counselor of the Vienna city council, has called for import of IT specialists from non-European Union (E.U.) countries to offset lack of computer experts in Austria. India, again, is seen as a major source country.

Hilmar Kabas, head of the Viennese wing of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party, known by its acronym FPOe, said he "totally rejects" the proposed "mass import" of what he called cheap labor from Mumbai and Calcutta.

"Instead of flying in specialists from Calcutta or Bombay (Mumbai), the city government should launch a massive higher education program to meet the demands of the IT sector growth," said Kabas, whose party, led by Joerg Haider, is anti-foreigner and for that reason is being shunned by many Western governments.

The FPOe is the minor partner in the government of Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel of the conservative Austrian People's Party. Adding a twist, Kabas said developing countries should not be robbed of their future through the "sucking out" of their IT specialists.

Brigitte Ederer's call for hiring of foreign professionals has been supported by officials of the Austrian Federal Chamber of Economy and the Industrialists' Union.

Recent studies by Austrian and international institutions reveal that the country is lagging behind in the technological field. A study by two international media research institutes, Britain-based Datamonitor and U.S.-based International Data Corporation (IDC), said Austria needs up to 55,000 network and other IT specialists now and by year 2003 the demand will increase to 85,000.

Though many agree that Austria needs to do something to address its lack of IT experts to be competitive in the technology-driven new economic order, there are differences over how the problem should be handled.

While Ederer stopped short of naming any countries from where the specialists could be hired, leaving the door open for specialists from India, Lorenz Fritz, head of the Industrialists' Union, said the experts should be hired from East European countries instead of China or India.

The Federal Chamber of Economy supports this view. "In the short-term, it will be necessary to relax visa and immigration regulations for IT experts from Austria's eastern neighbors," said Rudolf Lichtmanegger, a senior official at the chamber.

Though the discussion forums of leading newspapers and the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation are running hot on the issue with many opposing the move to import IT specialists, emotions are not running as high as in Germany. Some leaders of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Germany's main opposition party, have been conducting a near-racist campaign against a government plan to issue work permits to 20,000 foreign IT specialists.

Germany puts out 35,000 IT specialists every year from its universities and other higher education institutions, but studies claim the country has to have up to 100,000 specialists every year to fulfill the dream of becoming the leading technological power in Europe.

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