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IMMIGRATION

Austrian MPs approve tough new migrant bill

Austrian government ministers have approved new legislation which will reform asylum seekers’ rights, including delaying family reunification.

Austrian MPs approve tough new migrant bill
Refugees at Vienna's Westbahnhof station. File photo: Caritas

Having taken in 90,000 asylum seekers last year, the governing coalition has said it is time to toughen up Austria’s liberal admissions policies and make it a less attractive destination for asylum seekers.

The bill stipulates that once granted asylum, a refugee’s situation should be examined after three years to determine if they are still at risk in their homeland, and if they are not they could then be deported.

However, if the refugee in question is well integrated in Austria and there are humanitarian reasons why they should not be sent home, then deportation is unlikely.

Sources at the interior ministry have said that refugees who have taken language and Austrian values courses are less likely to be deported, but that each case will be decided on an individual basis.

The new bill will also increase the waiting period before which refugees can apply to bring over family members. Those who have been granted subsidiary protection will have to wait three years, rather than one. And war refugees from countries like Syria who are granted asylum will have to apply within three months of being granted asylum status, if they want family members to be able to join them. They will also have to prove that they have enough money to be able to support their family.

The new rules will affect all refugees who applied for asylum after November 15th 2015, as well those who are still waiting for a decision to be made on their status.

The Caritas charity has criticised the new law, saying it will add to human suffering and make it even harder for refugees to integrate.

Denmark is expected to vote on Tuesday on similar reforms intended to stem the flow of refugees through its borders. International outrage has focussed on a proposal allowing police to seize cash and valuables from refugees to help pay for their stay in asylum centres.

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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