Calls for reform to immigration card

Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner wants to lower the entry hurdles for the Red-White-Red card - a scheme which aims to facilitate the immigration of qualified non-EU foreign workers and their families with a view to permanent settlement in Austria.

Calls for reform to immigration card
An example of a Red-White-Red card. Photo: APA/Interior Ministry

The card was introduced three years ago but has fallen short of expectations. Last year, 1,177 permits were issued to immigrants who are either very highly qualified, or skilled workers in occupations which have a shortage of employees.

When it was introduced it was assumed the card would pave the way for 8,000 permits a year.

The Red-White-Red Card (the name refers to the Austrian flag) is issued for a period of 12 months and entitles the holder to fixed-term settlement and employment by a specified employer.

The People’s Party (ÖVP) has spoken out in favour of reforming the system and wants to make it easier for university graduates who are on low starting salaries to meet the criteria for applying for the card.

"At present many young graduates are being offered jobs with salaries which offer less than €2,000," Mikl-Leitner told ORF radio.

She added that the goal was "that young people should be allowed to remain in the country even after they’ve completed their degree, they should be allowed to work here, and become a taxpayer."

However, Social Minister Rudolf Hundstorfer said he saw no need for action. He told ORF radio that there was already "very, very large internal migration" within the EU. He said that Austria needed skilled migrants, but not to the extent that the government had anticipated three years ago.

Alexander Van der Bellen, the Vienna Greens spokesperson for Science and Research, said that the Red-White-Red Card had missed its targets, and called for a reform. He said that it was "simply unreasonable to evict [third country nationals] after they’ve completed their studies."

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‘Discrimination’: Austria’s benefit cuts for immigrants ‘go against free movement’

Benefit cuts imposed by Austria on immigrants whose children live in their country of origin contradict EU law becasue they constitute "discrimination on the ground of nationality", a legal adviser at the bloc's top court said on Thursday.

A picture of the sign and logo of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg
A picture of the sign and logo of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg on January 13, 2020. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

The opinion is the latest legal hitch to befall a series of measures — imposed by a previous government that included the far-right — which sought to restrict benefit payments to foreigners.

Richard de la Tour, advocate general of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), said the cuts to child benefits constituted “an infringement of the right of free movement conferred on EU citizens”.

The specific case relates to reforms that came into effect in 2019 which indexed child benefits according to where the recipient’s children live.

This meant reduced payments for tens of thousands of eastern Europeans who work in Austria — notably in the care sector — but whose children remain in their countries of origin.

The advocate general’s advice is not binding on the court but it is seen as influential.

De la Tour found that the cuts were “indirect discrimination on the ground of nationality which is permissible only if it is objectively justified”, and that Austria had failed to do so.

They contravened the principle that “if a migrant worker pays social contributions and taxes in a member state, he or she must be able to benefit from the same allowances as nationals of that state”, he added.

In 2020 the European Commission, supported by six eastern member states, brought an action before the CJEU claiming Austria was “failing to fulfil its obligations”.

Former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had said he hoped the cuts would save 114 million euros ($130 million) a year but in 2019 they recouped 62 million euros.

The former coalition also introduced benefit cuts for immigrants who failed to reach a certain level of German, but those measures were subsequently overturned by the Austrian courts.

The government that introduced in the cuts was brought down in a corruption scandal in May 2019.

It included the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (OeVP), which is still the senior partner in the current government.

However their current coalition partners, the Greens, opposed the benefit cuts at the time.