Majority of migrants to Austria from EU

Four out of five immigrants in Austria come from within the European Union, according to a new OECD report - which also shows that for the first time in more than a decade the EU has fallen behind the US as a destination for immigrants.

Majority of migrants to Austria from EU
Photo: APA/Marc Tirl

The prolonged economic downturn has tarnished the EU's allure among those looking to improve their lives, the study finds.

“Countries would benefit more from immigration if they consider migrants as a resource rather than a problem, and integration policies as an investment,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria, launching the report in Paris.

65,000 migrants settled in Austria last year, which corresponds to a decrease of three percent compared to 2012, but an increase of 37 percent since 2007. 78 percent of people who migrated to Austria last year were from the EU.

With eight immigrants to every 1000 inhabitants, Austria is somewhat higher than the OECD average but significantly lower than Switzerland (16), Norway (12) and Australia (11).

Last year Switzerland recorded permanent immigration of 136,200 people, three-quarters of whom were EU citizens. Swiss citizens have just rejected a call for dramatic immigration cuts, amid charges the initiative was xenophobic and a threat to Switzerland's economy.

OECD expert Thomas Liebig said that Austria’s high proportion of EU immigrants were well integrated. 60 percent of people who migrated to Austria in the past five years were employed, and 31 percent were highly qualified.

However, he said that there was still a lot of untapped potential, as almost half were underemployed in relation to their qualifications.

Liebig added that children born in Austria to immigrant parents encountered problems as only 25 percent can read and write German to a good level. However, adolescents who were born abroad and later migrated to Austria tended to do better and were well integrated.

In absolute terms, Germany is the biggest magnet in Europe for immigrants. During 2013, migration to Germany recorded a double-digit increase to over 450,000 people, its fourth consecutive annual rise. Three-quarters of all immigrants received by Germany are from other EU countries, making the country the second destination in the OECD, after the United States.

Overall the largest source country for immigrants was China, with nearly ten percent of all immigrants, followed by Romania (5.6 percent) and Poland (5.4 percent).

The number of asylum seekers in the OECD area rose by 20 percent, with most coming from Syria. Per capita, the largest host country for refugees was Sweden.

The percentage of foreign students at Austrian universities has increased by 9.4 percent compared to 2012 – with 58,019 foreign students, placing Austria alongside Luxembourg, Australia, Great Britain, Switzerland and New Zealand when it comes to higher education.

“Migration policies should be a priority for OECD countries, and integration policies should be seen as the best possible investment in terms of growth, social cohesion and well-being,” said Mr Gurria.

“The short and long-term costs of standing still in the face of rapidly changing needs are high. Policy makers need to lead an open and informed debate to build confidence and ensure everyone benefits,” he added.

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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.