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REFUGEE CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

EU mini-summit called for latest crisis

The EU has called a mini-summit with Balkan countries on the migrant crisis, as Slovenia became the latest state to buckle under a surge of refugees desperate to reach northern Europe before winter.

EU mini-summit called for latest crisis
Photo: Kim Traill

The leaders of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia will meet on Sunday with their counterparts from non-EU states Macedonia and Serbia, the office of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said.

“In view of the unfolding emergency in the countries along the western Balkans migratory route, there is a need for much greater cooperation, more extensive consultation and immediate operational action,” a statement said.

The continent has been struggling to find a unified response on how to tackle its biggest migration crisis since 1945.

More than 600,000 migrants and refugees, mainly fleeing violence in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have braved the dangerous journey to Europe so far this year, the UN said.

The goal for many travelling is the EU's biggest economy Germany, which expects to receive up to a million asylum requests this year.

Since Saturday, when Hungary sealed off its border with Croatia, more than 24,455 migrants have arrived in Slovenia, a nation of two million people.

In response, the Slovenian parliament amended a law which would allow soldiers to join border police in patrolling the 670-kilometre (416-mile) frontier with Croatia.

The amendment now means troops can detain people and hand them over to the police, as well as issue orders to civilians in the border area.

EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos is to visit Slovenia on Thursday to discuss its request for backup from police forces in other EU countries.

“The last 24 hours have been the toughest and most demanding since the start of the crisis,” the Slovenian government said, warning it was “delusional” to expect small countries to succeed where larger ones had failed.

Tensions, fire

Around 11,000 people were still stuck in Slovenian registration centres on Wednesday morning, waiting to continue their journey.

And tensions briefly flared in southern Austria when some 1,000 migrants broke through a police barrier at the Spielfeld border crossing and started marching north, an AFP photographer said.

Police eventually convinced them to return to the checkpoint and wait for buses provided by the government to transport them toward Germany.

Vienna said more than 6,000 migrants had entered Austria since Tuesday night, with most only passing through.

Further south, long lines of several hundred migrants formed near Croatia's border with Slovenia on Wednesday morning, an AFP reporter said.

Progress was slow as police at the Berkasovo checkpoint were only allowing a trickle of people through.

Croatia sent extra security forces to the border to prevent migrants from crossing into fields and entering Slovenia through its green frontier.

Meanwhile, a fire broke out briefly on Wednesday morning at a refugee camp near another Croatian border crossing.

Around 25 tents suddenly caught fire at the Brezice camp, with black smoke billowing into the sky. Firefighters managed to extinguish the blaze, whose origin remained unclear.

Forced to spend hours in freezing temperatures and rain, people often resort to lighting makeshift fires to warm themselves.

Slovenia voiced sharped criticism over Zagreb's decision to open its borders on Monday night, letting thousands of people into Slovenia.

“I deplore the lack of communication and cooperation with the Croatian authorities,” Prime Minister Miro Cerar said in an interview published in German daily Die Welt on Wednesday.

“Croatia doesn't respect border crossing agreements or the number of refugees supposed to enter Slovenia.”

Struggling relocation

With at least 9,000 people landing on Europe's beaches every day, there appeared to be no end to the human tide surging into the bloc.

The Netherlands on Wednesday said it received a record 8,400 asylum-seekers in September, the highest-ever number received in one month.

Last month, the EU approved plans to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers from overstretched frontline states Italy and Greece with a compulsory quota system that was fiercely opposed by some eastern, more hardline members of the bloc.

The plan requires most of the 28 member states accept a share of those people over the course of two years.

So far, only 19 Eritrean asylum seekers have been relocated from Italy to Sweden although another 100 people are due to be flown to other cities in the coming days.

Out of the 23 member states that are legally required to admit a share of the human burden, only six have offered immediate places so far — Austria, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Sweden, the source said.

Member states have also been slow to follow up with promised financial help — out of the 2.8 billion euros ($3.2 billion) pledged at an emergency EU summit on September 23, only about 474 million euros has materialised.

In a related development, the EU's border agency said member states had provided less than half of the personnel it had requested to help out in overstretched locations in Greece and Italy.

For members

MOVING TO AUSTRIA

‘I’ll probably return to the UK’: Moving to Austria as a Brit post-Brexit

Moving to Austria as a British citizen is not as easy as it was a couple of years ago, but it is still possible if you’re willing to jump through a few more bureaucratic hoops.

'I’ll probably return to the UK': Moving to Austria as a Brit post-Brexit

For British people that were living in Austria by the end of December 2020, nothing much has changed to everyday life when it comes to their status and rights (apart from losing voting rights in local elections and freedom of movement across the EU).

But for any Brits arriving since January 1st 2021, they have been considered as third country nationals and subject to the immigration rules for non-EU or EEA citizens.

This has been a shock to some British people that are not used to navigating EU immigration systems – and a stark reminder of how different moving to an EU country was before Brexit.

FOR MEMBERS: How can British second home owners spend more than 90 days in Austria?

To find out how the process now works, The Local spoke to two people who have done it (or tried to). 

Here’s what they have to say about their experiences.

Navigating Austrian immigration during Covid

Helen Murray, 30, moved to Austria in 2021 after first being granted a Visa D to enter the country and then securing a settlement permit (researcher) to take up a PhD position in Vienna.

Visa D allows third country nationals to enter Austria for up to six months, but as Helen applied for the visa at the height of Covid-19 lockdowns in early 2021, it was a complicated process.

Helen told The Local: “To get the visa I had to organise everything without going to Austria. This meant that I had to sort out renting somewhere (visa required rental contract) over the internet without seeing any apartments, and needing somewhere that was furnished – not easy in Vienna – so I could see out the quarantine.”

Additionally, Helen had to book a flight to Austria to secure the visa, even though flights from the UK were banned from landing in Austria at the time due to Covid-19 restrictions.

READ MORE: Reader question: Are Brits in Austria still banned from giving blood?

Since arriving in Austria, Helen has also noticed the difference in rights between British people that have the Article 50 card (a post-Brexit residency permit for Brits that were living in Austria before December 31st 2020), and those that don’t.

Helen said: “Nearly all of my British friends here have Article 50 cards, and so have all these rights that I don’t have. 

“It’s particularly galling because I know exactly how easy it was to come here before Brexit. I think now to stay in Austria you have to want it because it’s a lot of work, time and money.”

But when asked if Helen would still make the move to Austria post-Brexit with the benefit of hindsight, it was a question she initially found hard to answer. 

She said: “It’s a tricky question to answer because I have mixed feelings about moving here, but it’s mostly personal and professional reasons which would probably still be there regardless of Brexit.

“I would definitely say though that Brexit has made it too difficult for me to want to stay once my current contract is up, and I’ll most probably be returning to the UK. 

“This is because there are an increasing number of hurdles to pass with every visa extension and, because of Austria’s policy of not allowing dual citizenship, there’s no reward for staying here and doing all that as I wouldn’t be willing to give up my UK citizenship.”

READ ALSO: ‘Ashamed, embarrassed, disappointed’ – How Brits in the EU feel about the UK

Dreams of retirement in the Austrian Alps

Gerry Stapleton, a retired property developer from the UK, has owned a second home in Zell am See in Salzburg since 2008. He was hoping to gain residency in Austria to bypass the rule that states third country nationals can only spend 90 days in every 180 days in the EU.

Earlier this year, Gerry and his partner were granted temporary residence permits but came across difficulties when trying to secure health insurance – something that is mandatory for all residents in Austria.

Gerry told The Local: “What we were required to show was not that we had travel insurance but that we had proper, full medical insurance cover, similar to that provided by the Austrian and UK health care systems. 

Zell am See, in Austria (Photo by Markus Lederer on Unsplash)

“The authorities in Zell am See tried to be helpful and suggested at least six insurance companies whose cover would have been satisfactory. I tried them all, and some UK and international companies as well, but with no luck. 

“The major stumbling block was our ages – I am 74 and my partner is 77 – and none of the companies would offer cover for someone aged 75 or older.”

The solution would have been for Gerry and his partner to transfer their healthcare from the UK system to Austria. However, this would have left them without any coverage in their home country, which wasn’t suitable as they still want to spend part of the year in the UK.

Gerry added: “We have, therefore, reluctantly withdrawn our applications, although I keep trying to find something that might help.”

FOR MEMBERS: EXPLAINED: The 2022 salary requirements for Austria’s EU Blue Card

Brits in Austria

So, what are the options for British people who want to move to Austria post-Brexit? Here are a few possibilities.

First, there is the Red-White-Red Card for qualified or skilled workers from non-EU countries that want to live and work in Austria. If granted, the visa is valid for 24 months and allows visa holders to bring family members with them.

However, there are different types of visas issued under the umbrella of the Red-White-Red Card, depending on the applicant’s professional background.

For example, those with advanced degrees and management experience in the fields of mathematics, informatics, natural sciences or technology are considered as very highly qualified workers. They can initially enter Austria with a Job Seeker Visa, which can later be transferred to a Red-White-Red Card following a job offer.

Alternatively, there is a category for skilled workers in shortage occupations, such as engineers, carpenters, physicians, chefs and accountants. For this category, applicants must score a minimum of 50 points in the eligibility criteria (including elementary level German and English language skills), show proof of relevant qualifications and have a valid job offer.

READ ALSO: Can foreigners buy a second home in Austria?

Additionally, there are several other categories for the Red-White-Red Card, including one for recent graduates from an Austrian education institution (which Helen Murray would be eligible for) and family reunification. Each category has its own eligibility criteria. 

And there is the EU Blue Card, which is available for non-EU citizens with a job offer in Austria with a salary of at least €66,593.

Then there is the Austrian residency option.

Austria is a great place to live, but getting a residence permit can be tricky. (Photo by Frank J on Pexels)

Applying for residency in Austria is a big commitment and involves giving up residency in the UK (but not citizenship).

It also usually means losing access to the NHS because you will be required to contribute to the social security system in Austria, unless you have private medical insurance (an issue encountered by Gerry Stapleton).

In the case of retired people, Patrick Kainz, a Vienna-based immigration lawyer, told The Local in a previous article that the best approach is to apply for a “gainful employment excepted” residents permit (Niederlassungsbewilligung ausgenommen Erwerbstätigkeit) that allows for income through a pension or private funds. There are limits on how many permits can be issued in Austria each year.

For this category of Austrian residency, single people need a minimum monthly income of €2,060.98 and couples need to earn at least €3,251.42 a month to be eligible. An additional amount of €318 for each child also applies. These figures are twice the standard amount of the General Social Insurance Act (ASVG).

However, immigration lawyer Osai Amiri advises any British people wanting to pursue an immigration route to Austria to inform themselves about the necessary requirements and prepare for a long application process.

Amiri told The Local: “Once they have determined which permit best suits their plans, they should start collecting and preparing the documents that they would have to submit to the Austrian authorities.

“Only after that should they travel to Austria and submit their application for the respective permit in Austria.

“Since the visa-free stay of British citizens is limited, they can in that way save themselves a lot of time and would not have to travel back and forth in order to obtain the decision of the Austrian authorities during the visa-free stay.”

Additionally, Amiri suggested British people can pursue other pathways to Austria, such as permits for students, artists and scientists. 

Useful links

Federal government official migration website

British in Austria

Vienna Business Agency

This article originally referenced the standard rate for the minimum monthly income for the gainful employment excepted residency permit, as stated on the Austrian migration website. It has now been updated to include the rate for third country nationals (twice the standard rate).

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