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IMMIGRATION

Minister rejects EC critics over caps

Austria's combative interior minister rejected Saturday EU criticism of its cap of 80 asylum claims per day, saying a letter of complaint to her from the bloc's migration commissioner was "sent to the wrong address".

Minister rejects EC critics over caps
Austrian interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner. Photo: ORF screenshot

“It should be generally known that Austria does not have an external EU border and is therefore not the first safe country that these people (migrants) set foot in,” Johanna Mikl-Leitner told the Austria Press Agency (APA).

“If everybody stuck to the content of the letter (from migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos), then Austria would not have a problem with it. But the letter was clearly sent to the wrong address,” Mikl-Leitner said.

Instead, the complaints should be sent to safe countries that the migrants pass through on their way to Austria, she said, in a reference in particular to Greece, the main entry point in the European Union for migrants.

In 2015, over one million people reached Europe's shores — nearly half of them Syrians fleeing the civil war — causing the bloc a major political headache.

Austria last year took in 90,000 asylum seekers, making it one of the highest recipients in the EU on a per-capita basis, while almost 10 times that number passed through, mostly to Germany and Sweden.

Faced with a resurgent far-right opposition topping opinion polls, Austria's centrist government this week imposed the new cap and said only 3,200 migrants could pass through per day.

Border controls are being tightened and the government wants only 37,500 asylum claims this year.

On Thursday, amid widespread criticism of Austria, Avramopoulos sent a letter to Mikl-Leiter calling the cap “plainly incompatible with Austria's obligations under European and international law.”

The measures have also raised fears that when migrant numbers spike as expected again in the coming months as spring arrives, there will be a dangerous backlog of people along the Balkans route from Greece northwards.

New asylum claims

On Friday, when the new restrictions came into effect, no single migrant entered Austria, due to bad weather.

On Saturday 396 people, many of them families and including some elderly people, entered at the main Spielfeld border crossing point with Slovenia in southern Austria, police said.

But of these only 12 applied for asylum, the others saying they wished to travel onwards to Germany and transported in army buses to migrant centres, police spokesman Wolfgang Braunsar said.

Vienna says its unilateral moves are necessary because a German-backed EU plan agreed in November for Turkey to stem the flow of migrants leaving its shores for Greece is not yet working.

The EU and Turkey are due to hold a summit on March 6 to seek to firm up their agreement, which would see migrants flown directly from Turkey and shared — in theory — around certain members of the bloc.

In return for sealing its borders, Turkey would receive several billion euros in aid and other sweeteners including reinvigorating its drive for EU membership and easing visa restrictions.

IMMIGRATION

MAP: Who are the foreigners in Austria?

Austria's recent Migration & Integration report paints a detailed picture of who are the immigrants in the country, where they come from, the languages they speak at home and more.

MAP: Who are the foreigners in Austria?

More than a quarter of Austria’s population has a “migration background”, which, according to the statistics institute Statistik Austria, means that they have parents who both were born abroad, regardless of their own nationality or place of birth.

Though migration is a controversial topic for some, Statistik Austria made it clear that if not for it, the country would simply stop growing.

“Austria’s population is growing solely due to immigration. Without it, according to the population forecast, the number of inhabitants would fall back to the level of the 1950s in the long term”, says Statistik Austria’s director general Tobias Thomas.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Who are the foreigners in Austria?

Not every person with a migration background is considered a foreigner, though. Many of them have parents who were born abroad but naturalised Austrians before having children, or they themselves became Austrian citizens later on.

This is why despite 25.4 percent of the population having a “migration background”, the number of people with foreign nationalities is slightly lower at 17.7 percent.

So, who are these people? 

German is still the most common nationality among foreigners in Austria (218,347 people). But much had changed since 2015 (when there were 170,475 Germans).

The number of Romanians has almost doubled (from 73,374 to 140,454), bringing them to the second-largest foreigner community in Austria, behind German citizens.

In 2015, Turkish was the second-largest foreign nationality in Austria (there were 115,433), but they are now the fourth (with 117,944 people), behind German, Romanian, and Serbians (121,643).

They are helping Austria get younger

In Austria, most people without a migration background (36.2 percent) are between 40 to 64 years old. The share is also quite large among those with 65 or more years, reaching 21.8 percent.

When it comes to people with a migration background, most are between 40 to 64 years old (34.4 percent), followed closely by the 20 to 39-year-olds (33.5 percent), and then the children and adolescents until 19 years of age (22 percent). Only 10.2 percent of the people with a migration background are older than 65.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How does the Austrian pension system work?

Regarding nationalities, Austrians have an average age of 44.8, followed by Germans, who average 41.1. The youngest populations are the Afghani living in Austria (24.9 years old on average) and the Syrians (26.3).

Immigration helps keep the Austrian population younger. (Photo by Huy Phan on Unsplash)

Language and education

People with a migration background living in Austria have a different educational profile than the population without a migration background, according to the Statistik Austria data.

They are more often represented in the lowest and highest educational segments and less often in the middle-skilled segment than the population without a migration background.

However, the educational level of immigrants is improving over time, on the one hand, due to increasing internal migration, also of higher educated people within the EU. On the other hand, as a result of the selective immigration policy toward third-country nationals by the Red-White-Red Card, the institution said.

READ ALSO: How Austria is making it easier for non-EU workers to get residence permits

In 2021, 19.4 percent of the Austrian population had higher education, such as a university degree, and 10.9 percent had only mandatory primary schooling. Regarding foreigners, 29 percent had university-level education and 25.1 percent had completed only their primary school years.

When it comes to children and the language they speak, German was the first language of about 72 percent of the four and 5-year-old children in elementary educational institutions in Austria.

READ ALSO: Austria ranked world’s ‘second least friendly country’

With just under six percent each, Turkish and Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian (BKS) were the most common non-German first languages. Around two percent each spoke Romanian, Arabic or Albanian, followed by Hungarian (one percent).

Less than one percent each for Persian, Polish, Slovakian, English, Russian and Kurdish, respectively, as the first languages. Languages other than those mentioned were spoken by slightly more than five percent.

And who is naturalising Austrian?

Not all foreigners become Austrian, even if they have been in the country for decades. One of the reasons is that the process is expensive, but also because it requires applicants to give up their previous citizenship – something many are unwilling to do.

READ ALSO: Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

According to the report, in 2021, most foreign citizens who naturalised Austrian were from Turkey originally (1,100), followed by Bosnia (921), Serbia (782), Afghanistan (545), and Syria (543).

More than one-third of the people naturalising Austrian last year were already born in Austria, and most of the naturalisations were of young people between 20 and 40 years old.

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