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IMMIGRATION

New asylum integration plan announced

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz has announced a new integration plan for asylum seekers, in which German-language learning is rewarded and radicalism is punished.

New asylum integration plan announced
Sebastian Kurz announcing the plan together with Professor Heinz Faßmann. Photo: Austrian Foreign Ministry
There are 50 points in the new plan, which is intended to help asylum seekers become part of the community, and to be better prepared for joining the labour market.
 
As well as taking language lessons, migrants wishing to stay in Austria will have to undergo at least eight hours of compulsory training in basic European values.
 
If they refuse to participate in the language and values courses they will face penalties, including cuts of up to 50 percent of the social security benefits they receive during the integration period.
 
There will also be penalties for immigrants who are found to have engaged in radical behaviour, including increased community service.
 
According to Austrian broadcaster ORF, some of the key points of the plan include:
  • Values. People receiving asylum are required to attend a course with an emphasis on values and orientation. On the curriculum: democracy, human rights, manners, values orientation.
  • Racism. Asylum applicants with racist or radicalized ideas must attend special de-radicalization workshops.
  • Kindergarten. The second year of kindergarten is compulsory. Kindergartens must share the constitutionally enshrined values. This is especially true for Islamic kindergartens, of which there are around 150 in Vienna. Kindergarten teachers must have good German language skills and recognised qualifications.
  • School. Civic education should be a school subject.
  • Religion. Promotion of a “European-style” Islam.

The complete plan is available to read in German.

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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