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IMMIGRATION

Brexit: Why some Brits in Austria are losing benefit payments

Benefit payments for some British citizens living in Austria have been suspended while they wait for the new Article 50 (A50) EUV Card – a move which is not in line with the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. Here's what you need to know.

Brexit: Why some Brits in Austria are losing benefit payments
Is the sun setting on some British people's benefits in Austria? Photo: OLI SCARFF / AFP

The Local Austria has been contacted by Brits who have recently been informed they will no longer receive benefits, such as Arbeitslosgeld (unemployment benefit) and Kinderbetreeungsgeld (childcare benefit), until they have the A50 card.

British citizens that were already living in Austria before 31st December 2020 (the Brexit transition deadline) have until the end of the year to apply for the A50 card so that their rights are protected by the Withdrawal Agreement.

A British woman living in Innsbruck, Tyrol, who asked not to be identified, said her childcare benefit payments have been suspended. Other British people have not been able to apply for unemployment benefits.

READ: How Britons can move to Austria to live and work post-Brexit 

She said: “Other people affected don’t have appointments to apply for the Article 50 Card until late March so may be without funds until April or May.”

Another woman posted in the UK in Austria – British Embassy Vienna Facebook group and said her childcare benefits have been suspended because she doesn’t have the A50 Card yet. Despite living in Austria for 30 years. 

She says she was informed about the suspension two days before the expected payment and has been asked to show proof that she is legally allowed to live in Austria.

Since the start of the year, some British citizens have been experiencing delays in booking the initial appointment to apply for the A50 card, as reported by The Local last month.

READ MORE: First Britons in Austria receive post-Brexit residency cards 

But the British Embassy has confirmed that the suspension of benefit payments goes against the Withdrawal Agreement. 

British Ambassador to Austria Leigh Turner told The Local: “We are aware of reports of UK nationals in Austria being informed that they will no longer receive benefits until they have the Article 50 card. That is not in line with commitments made in the Withdrawal Agreement. 

“We have reached out to the Austrian government for clarification and the government has confirmed that until 31 December 2021 access to benefits is not dependent on having applied for or received the Article 50 card. 

“The relevant ministry is now contacting authorities to ensure that they are aware of this.”

Ambassador Turner confirmed that from 1 January 2022, UK nationals will need an A50 card (or other valid residence document) to have the same access to Austrian benefits as EU nationals.

He added: “I encourage all UK nationals in Austria to contact their Bezirkshauptmannschaft or Magistrat and apply for an Article 50 card as soon as possible.”

Mike Bailey from British in Austria, a platform for British citizens living in Austria, said they are aware of the situation, which is being exacerbated by ongoing coronavirus restrictions.

READ MORE: How Britons in Austria can secure post-Brexit residency 

He said: “Unfortunately, regional offices for benefits have not been informed that the requirement to have the Article 50 EUV card to continue to receive benefits in a comparable manner to citizens of other EU Member States only comes in at the end of 2021.

“The issue was probably accentuated further by the national lockdown, which meant that Article 50 EUV card appointments have not always been possible at the earliest opportunity in every Bezirk. 

“We are very grateful that the British Embassy has taken up contact with the Ministry (Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection), and that the Ministry in turn is ensuring that the respective bodies are made aware of this particular situation and how it should be handled.”

British in Austria has been publishing information about the application process for the A50 card and reaching out to British citizens on social media. There is also a detailed FAQ page dedicated to benefit payments on their website.

Mike added: “For those affected, it has brought extra unnecessary strain at an already difficult time.”

Any British citizens in Austria experiencing issues with their A50 card application, or with receiving benefits, are encouraged to contact the consular team at the British Embassy.

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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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