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REFUGEE CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

EU President tours frontline as solidarity efforts continue

Following his meeting in Austria earlier this week, EU President Donald Tusk is due to hold talks Thursday in Greece and Turkey, two nations on the frontline of the migrant crisis.

EU President tours frontline as solidarity efforts continue
Refugees wait at the Idomeni border camp. IMELA PANTZARTZI/EPA

The talks will follow the unveiling of a massive emergency aid plan from the European Union to help its members cope with the influx.

The stops in Athens and Ankara are part of a regional tour which has also seen Tusk travel to Slovenia. He will meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul on Friday ahead of a summit on the crisis on Monday.

Austria's foreign minister on Thursday also urged Greece to stop migrants and refugees from pursuing their journey to northern Europe, saying Athens should hold new arrivals at registration “hotspots”.

“We should end Greece's policy which consists of allowing (them) to head north,” said Sebastian Kurz in an interview with the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

“Those who manage to arrive in Greece should not be allowed to continue on their journey,” he said.

“We are working towards getting Greece to set up 'hotspots' with the help of the EU, in order to take charge of these people and we are applying pressure because nothing is happening,” added Kurz.

“Hotspots” are centres where migrants are registered and screened for those eligible for asylum in the European Union and those who will face eventual deportation. The facilities are currently being installed in Greece and Italy — the two main arrival points in the EU for hundreds of thousands of migrants.

After several months of delays, Greece opened four out of five hotspots on its islands in mid-February.

With these hotspots, “we are offering aid to those who need protection, but we cannot allow them to continue on their journey,” Kurz said.

For him, September's decision by Austria and Germany to open Europe's borders to refugees was a “serious mistake” that has to be fixed urgently. While Vienna has since said it would take in only 37,500 asylum seekers this year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has resolutely refused to impose a quota.

She has also said that Greece must not be left alone to shoulder the refugee burden, although this week she said newcomers did not “have the right to determine in which country they wish to seek asylum.”

€700 million emergency aid plan for Greece

The EU on Wednesday proposed a €700 million emergency aid plan to help Greece and other countries deal with Europe's worst migration crisis since World War II.

It is the first time the 28-member bloc has responded to a situation within its borders in the same way as it treats humanitarian disasters in developing countries.

The United Nations has warned of a looming humanitarian crisis as thousands of people remain stuck in miserable winter conditions on the Greece-Macedonia border after Balkans states and Austria capped the numbers arriving.

With Macedonia still tightly restricting passage through its border with Greece, only around 500 Syrian and Iraqi refugees have been allowed to cross since Tuesday, Greek police said.

As people continue to land by boat on Greek islands from Turkey, fleeing war and misery in the Middle East and elsewhere, the EU estimates that more than 12,000 may currently be stuck at Idomeni on the Macedonian border.

Misery at the Macedonia border and in Calais

With refugees arriving independently at the Macedonian border rather than taking buses provided by the Greek government for fear of delays, Greek police say it is impossible to accurately track their numbers.

Greece has been the main point of entry for the 1.13 million migrants who have arrived in the EU since the start of 2015.

“No time can be lost in deploying all means possible to prevent humanitarian suffering within our own borders,” EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides said Wednesday as the emergency funding plan was unveiled.

Athens has asked for around €480 million to help shelter 100,000 refugees.

At the Idomeni border camp, bleak scenes played out Wednesday with refugees in mud-soaked fields queuing for hours for a sandwich, as aid agencies reported a lack of food and tents and warned that the wintry weather was taking a toll on people's health.

In the French port of Calais, demolition workers razed makeshift shelters in the so-called Jungle migrant camp for a third day running under the close watch of dozens of police officers equipped with water cannon.

The camp is a magnet for people hoping to reach Britain and many have refused to leave, although there has been no repeat of the violent clashes that erupted on Monday. French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron were to hold a summit in France on Thursday, with the Calais situation top of the agenda.

Ahead of the talks, French state secretary for European Affairs Harlem Desir announced that Britain would provide an extra €20 million in funding to boost security at Calais, on top of the current €60 million.

'Tougher measures needed'

The apparent show of European solidarity with the new emergency fund masks growing criticism of countries that have capped the number of migrants they are willing to let in.

European leaders are divided ahead of two summits this month on the migration crisis, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying that debt-hit Greece must not be allowed to plunge into “chaos”.

The crisis has also raised fears for the EU's Schengen passport-free zone as more states bring back border controls.

Tusk on Wednesday defended the use of barbed wire fences against migrants, saying that securing the Schengen area's outer borders was a “pre-condition” to solving the refugee crisis.

“I'm afraid that sometimes you need tougher measures if you, we want really to apply   Schengen. Sorry but this is the reality,” Tusk said during his visit to Slovenia.

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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