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REFUGEE CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

Refugee crisis could cost Austria ‘billions’

A secret document from Austria’s finance ministry, which was leaked to the Austrian broadcasting company ORF, forecasts that if Austria takes in an estimated 85,000 asylum seekers in 2015 and a further 130,000 in 2016 it will cost a total of €6.5 billion over the next four years.

Refugee crisis could cost Austria ‘billions’
Refugees at Vienna's Westbahnhof station. Photo: Kim Traill

This is much higher than earlier official calculations, and is based on a projected 25,000 positive asylum applications per year.

The figure includes the costs of primary care for asylum seekers, integration, social security, and helping recognised asylum seekers access the labour market. The document estimates that if the cost of family reunification is included this would almost double the figure to €12.3 billion.

In comparison, the 2015 budget for the defence ministry amounts to around €1.8 billion, which corresponds to 0.55 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

In September, almost 200,000 refugees arrived in Austria, and 8,000 of those have applied for asylum. The interior ministry has said it expects a total of 80,000 asylum seekers this year.

The conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) has argued in favour of granting refugees “limited asylum” and restricting family reunification – where family members of a recognised refugee are given permission to join him or her in Austria.

IMMIGRATION

‘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.

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