Fifty years ago, on May 15th 1964, Austria signed the first guest worker recruitment agreement with Turkey. Around the same time, similar negotiations began with former Yugoslavia.
Since that time, tens of thousands of migrants from Turkey and the former Yugoslavia countries have settled in Vienna, making it very different from the society of the past.
Historically, Vienna has always been tolerant of migration and something of a melting pot, as the centre of an old empire. A popular Austrian saying suggests that you’re not really a true Viennese unless you have a Czech grandmother.
To commemorate the signing of the accords, Vienna is holding a special celebration on September 3rd, at which some of the first arrivals from 50 years ago will be honoured.
"We have developed this city in the last decades together. The former Turkish and ex-Yugoslav guest workers and migrant workers have made a very important contribution," the organizer and Vienna City Councillor for Integration Sandra Frauenberger said.
According to migration expert Prof Patrick Taran, President of Global Migration Policy Associates (Switzerland), and a visiting professor at the Geneva School of Diplomacy, Vienna is unique in that 49% of its population are either themselves immigrants, or the children of at least one immigrant parent.
Today in Vienna there are around 156,000 immigrants from the former Yugoslavia and 75,000 people of Turkish origin.
The Vienna Business Agency says that migrants are especially important for the business life of the city. A total of 26,200 Viennese immigrants are self-employed – that's 37 percent of the city’s entrepreneurs.
Vienna has been lucky with its legal immigrants, as they tend to be well-educated – 46.6% of self-employed migrants have a university degree or its equivalent.
Vienna by numbers. Source: Statistics Austria & MA23
But in wider Europe, the outlook is not as rosy, as the EU’s border agency Frontex announced on Wednesday. It warns that Europe faces a fresh onslaught of illegal migrants, especially from Libya and Syria. In the first three months of this year, deteriorating conditions in north-African countries have led to a tripling of illegals, with 42,000 attempting to enter Italy or Malta.
Even more refugees are expected to arrive in summer, as fair weather will encourage more migrants to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.
According to Prof Taran, urgent changes in policies are needed, if Europe is to avoid a demographic time bomb. By 2020, there will be a huge shortage in the skilled workers needed to operate Europe’s industrial and machine manufacturing operations, and the current birth rate simply isn’t enough to meet future demands.
At the same time, extreme-right groups and nationalist politicians continue to exploit anti-foreigner sentiments, in order to win popular support from their xenophobic base, making sensible policy development much more difficult.
The Deputy Director of Frontex, Gil Arias-Fernandez, told the German Press Agency that little can be done to effectively prevent the constant waves of illegal migration. Instead, he said that “the EU should seek to improve the economic situation in the countries of origin of illegal immigrants.”