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WORKING IN AUSTRIA

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

Austria needs more workers, as around 124,000 jobs are currently vacant, but skilled migrants have trouble getting a permit. The government wants to change that.

IT workers workplace
Eligibility criteria for Austria's Red-White-Red card is changing. (Photo by Tim van der Kuip on Unsplash)

Every year, the federal government goes over the country’s unemployment service statistics to see how many openings there are and for which professions.

Then, they compiled a list of “shortage occupations”, and skilled workers in those areas can apply for a residence permit if they get a job. 

It seems simple enough: the government says there is a need for nurses, gardeners, or roof installers.

So a person from outside the European Union who is trained in one of these “shortage occupations” can apply and get a residence permit – helping the country grow and filling in jobs that current residents can’t or won’t take.

However, the current process is complicated, bureaucratic and takes way too long.

“It’s not really [entirely] logical, and they haven’t changed it with the years”, explains Kornelia Epping, a specialist in immigration and relocation and CEO of MOVES consulting in Vienna.

Finally, though, it seems that Austria is about to change, adapt, and make the process for getting the work residence permit, the so-called Rot-Weiss-Rot (RWR) card, much more accessible, according to statements given by the federal government in a press conference this Thursday.

Filling up the positions

Austria has more than 124,000 jobs currently vacant. However, the number is likely to be much higher, as just about half of the open positions are reported to the labour market service (AMS), Labour Minister Martin Kocher (ÖVP) said during the press conference. 

Not only are there demographic changes that pressure the workforce market, but some positions are simply not being filled from the inside due to a lack of skilled workers. 

“It’s hard to find educated people in certain areas, and over the past two years, with the pandemic, many individuals in Austria simply changed fields completely”, Epping explains. 

READ ALSO: Which are the best companies to work for in Austria?

This is true, especially in some shortage occupations hit hard by the pandemic: those in the gastronomy and tourism sectors.

Changes to attract self-educated IT workers

The alpine country also doesn’t make it easy for skilled workers to immigrate, with strict rules on proof of training and education.

“I’ve had cases when I helped an IT worker with plenty of experience, but no formal education get a job outside of Austria”, Epping says. 

“In the Netherlands or Germany, he could get the permit based on professional experience. But in Austria, he needed to prove he had the education background matching the job position”. 

READ ALSO: Can I work for my foreign employer as a self-employed person in Austria?

He didn’t have proof of training, she says. The applicant had a Marketing degree but learned programming and changed fields years ago. He would still be considered a skilled worker in many countries, but not in Austria. 

This is one of the things that are about to change, according to the federal government’s draft proposal. It says explicitly that IT workers with three years of professional experience can also be admitted if they have not completed their studies. 

English language will count as much as German

Currently, skilled workers need to achieve a minimum of points in a system that makes it almost necessary for them to prove some German knowledge. 

In the future, English will award the same amount of points as German if it’s the company language.

“This is particularly important in the startup sector”, emphasised the Minister of Economic Affairs Margarete Schramböck (ÖVP).

And when German knowledge is needed, the certificates presented will be accepted for five years instead of one.

Just like with the IT workers, for all shortage occupations, the professional experience will count more when it comes to receiving a residence permit. Some apprenticeship certificates will be put on equal footing with university degrees in certain areas, including nursing and care.

READ ALSO: The best commuter towns if you work in Vienna

Many of the shortage occupations are in the tourism and gastronomy sectors, including cooks and waiters. The draft proposal addresses this demand by making it easier for seasonal workers to get an RWR permit. Those employed as seasonal for three years could become regular employees – if they get a job offer in the field. 

“No social dumping”

“Austria is a high-level country, with high safety and income. They want to maintain the high lifestyle level and try to keep out those that would need social assistance”, Epping explains. 

One of the ways this is done is by putting a high minimum income for workers that seek the permit. As a result, these workers need to find jobs that pay much more than the average salary, even for their own fields, which, in turn, reduces the incentive for companies to hire from abroad and keeps the positions open for longer than necessary.

READ ALSO: Explained: How to understand your payslip in Austria

The minimum salary will fall for graduates and be lower for certain professionals, including highly qualified academics. 

The changes will not reduce Austria’s quality of living and high salaries, Labour Minister Kocher reiterated, as “collective agreements must continue to be fulfilled”. There will be no social dumping, he explained. 

However, the de-bureaucratisation would bring in much-needed skilled workers and in a process that would be half as long as the current duration of two to three months, the ministers said.

You can check the full list of shortage occupations and the point system to get the permit here.

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For members

WORK PERMITS

Red-White-Red: How Austria is simplifying work permits for non-Europeans

Meeting the criteria for Austria’s fixed-term settlement and employment card is about to become easier following a recent vote in Parliament.

Red-White-Red: How Austria is simplifying work permits for non-Europeans

The Red-White-Red (Rot-Weiß-Rot) card is already one of Austria’s most popular immigration routes for qualified workers from third countries.

But the application process is to be reformed with sweeping changes to the eligibility criteria for minimum wage, language and recognition of professional qualifications, as well as improved rights for seasonal workers.

Here’s what you need to know.

READ MORE: Digital nomads: Who can work remotely in Austria?

What is the Red-White-Red card?

The Red-White-Red (RWR) card is a 24-month permit for qualified workers and their families to live and work in Austria. It’s aimed at third country nationals. 

To qualify for the card, applicants need to have enough points based on education, professional experience, age and language skills.

There are six categories of people that can apply: very highly qualified workers (e.g. those with a PhD), skilled workers in shortage occupations, other key workers, graduates of Austrian universities, self-employed key workers and start-up founders.

READ ALSO: ​​Why has naturalisation in Austria doubled in 2022 – and who are the new citizens?

What is changing?

On Tuesday June 28th, the National Council’s Social Affairs Committee spoke out in favour of the proposed changes to the RWR card following votes of support from the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), Greens and Neos, as reported by the Wiener Zeitung.

This means both the eligibility criteria and the application process will be easier to navigate in the future. 

Here’s an overview of the key changes.

How Austria is simplifying naturalisation

Applicants will be able to qualify for the RWR card with a minimum gross salary of 50 percent of the ASVG (social insurance) maximum contributions. This is currently €2,835 gross per month. 

FOR MEMBERS: More pay and longer holidays: How Austria hopes to attract 75,000 new nurses

There will no longer be a minimum wage requirement for graduates from local universities and technical colleges, but the salary must still correspond to the local salary of domestic graduates with comparable work and professional experience. 

Some temporary qualified workers from third countries – such as IT workers – will be able to apply for a work permit for up to six months.

Foreign start-up founders will need just €30,000 in funds in the future, instead of the current rate of €50,000.

Knowledge of English will be equated with knowledge of German if the language in the company is English. 

The recognition of professional experience will be made easier, and language certificates and other evidence will remain valid for longer. 

There will be an easier application process for family members of RWR card holders to join them in Austria.

In addition, regular seasonal workers in tourism and agriculture will be given permanent access to the labour market after at least two years of seasonal employment in Austria.

READ ALSO: What makes Vienna the ‘most liveable city’ and where can it improve?

Why now?

Austria’s governing coalition argues that changes to the RWR card criteria is an important step in tackling the current labour shortage in Austria. 

As reported by The Local, Austria recently reported the lowest unemployment rate in 14 years (5.7 percent in May) with high demand for staff in the commercial and industrial sectors, as well as in hospitality.

READ MORE: What you need to know about applying for Austrian citizenship

Not all political parties agree though and on Tuesday the National Council heard concerns from the SPÖ and FPÖ that the new rules for the RWR card could increase pressure on domestic workers. 

However, the Wiener Zeitung reports that Labor and Economics Minister Martin Kocher (ÖVP) considered such concerns to be unfounded as there are currently only 5,300 active RWR cards in Austria. 

By comparison, Kocher said there are around 7,000 people from Ukraine in Austria with a work permit.

Useful links

Living and working in Austria

Austrian Business Agency

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