Vienna’s benefits system acts as a ‘magnet for refugees’

Refugees in Austria are increasingly moving to Vienna because other Austrian states have reduced the amount of social security benefits asylum seekers can receive, which is designed to cover their basic living costs.

Vienna's benefits system acts as a 'magnet for refugees'

People granted asylum in Austria are typically awarded up to €914 a month to cover their basic living costs (Mindestsicherung) but many areas – including the states of Lower and Upper Austria have reduced this to €520.

Critics of the Vienna government – a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens – say it has vastly underestimated the cost of providing basic benefits to asylum seekers.

Figures show that the budget for social benefits has had to be increased to around €130m. The government of Vienna says that the number of recipients of social benefits has “risen sharply because of the inflow from other federal states”.

From 2011 to 2013 the number of benefits claimants who relocated to Vienna was around four percent. That figure doubled in 2015 and is now around eight percent (14,414 people).

The opposition ÖVP party claims that Vienna has a “budget crisis” because of the increase in spending on social welfare and wants a special meeting of the city council to discuss record unemployment and debt levels and a refusal to reform the system.

Sonja Wehsely, the city councillor responsible for social affairs, says that only a small percentage of people are totally reliant on the Mindestsicherung, and that the number of “large refugee families” is few.

But she admitted that poor economic growth, a lack of employment opportunities and a rise in the number of people being granted asylum has led to increased costs, and that this has become political fodder for the ÖVP and right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ).

She argues that if the Mindestsicherung benefit is cut then vulnerable people risk falling into homelessness, poverty and crime, and that the benefit exists to create social equality and peace in the city.

Reinhold Lopatka, political leader of the ÖVP parliamentary group recently said the social system is especially unfair in Vienna and that refugees who have been granted asylum status in Austria get more money from the authorities than farmers receive in pension benefits.

“A farmer who has been working hard his whole life has spoken with me. He now receives pension benefits of €620 and his son has to subsidise him so that he can feed himself. Currently migrants in Vienna receive €837.60, although they have never contributed to our benefits system”.


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The office for immigration and citizenship in Vienna is for many immigrants their first encounter with Austrian bureaucracy. We want to hear from you about your own experience dealing with officials and the process.

Tell us: What was your experience like dealing with Vienna's MA35?

Vienna’s MA35 is a well-known office for immigrants in Austria, particularly those who live in the capital. It has received plenty of criticism for long delays, mistakes and even mistreatment of those seeking services from renewing a visa to applying for Austrian citizenship.

Yet, it is an integral part of life for immigrants and their family members, as the office is responsible for residence permits (from visas to the Anmeldebescheiningung for EU citizens), naturalisation applications and more. In short: there is no escaping it.

So, we want to hear from you: What has been your experience and importantly do you have any advice for others?