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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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WORKING IN AUSTRIA

EXPLAINED: How to register as self-employed in Austria

Working as a freelancer in Austria is an attractive prospect for international residents. But the process might not be as easy as back home. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How to register as self-employed in Austria

Anyone that has set up a business as a freelancer in Austria will know how confusing it can be. Especially if they are from countries like the UK and US where starting a business as a sole trader is fairly easy.

In Austria though, there are several steps to registering as self-employed, with limited information in English on how to navigate the process. 

So to help foreigners in Austria get started, we spoke to Vienna-based business consultant Miglena Hofer to break down the steps when registering as self-employed.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What can I deduct from my tax bill in Austria?

Obtain a business licence (or not)

The first step to becoming self-employed in Austria is finding out if you need a business licence.

Sounds simple enough, right? But for those without strong German language skills, it can quickly become tricky.

Miglena Hofer told The Local: “There is a lack of information about the process in English, especially explanatory information. 

“In Austria there are also different types of self-employed people. The two main types are business owner and operator, and the new self-employed [such as writers, photographers].” 

“Almost everything requires a business licence in Austria. Even if you only intend to cover costs with your work, it still counts as a business.”

READ NEXT: ‘Brutal’: What it’s really like to learn German in Austria

The Ministry of Labour and Economics has a list of regulated trades that need a business licence in Austria (only available in German). Professions include electrician, hairdresser, florist and masseuse. 

If you do need a business licence, an application has to be submitted by the first day you plan to start working in your business. 

To apply for a licence, visit the Gewerbe­informations­system Austria (Business Information System Austria). This website has the option to translate the information into English.

Any professions that don’t require a business licence, like journalists, artists and teachers, are classed as new self-employed (Neu Selbständige) and can move on to the next steps.

Notify the tax office 

This involves filling in the form Verf24 and sending it to the tax office (Finanzamt) to inform them that you are self-employed. There is a deadline of four weeks after you have started operating for this part of the process.

You also have to make an appointment at the WKÖ (Austrian Economic Chamber) and become a member. This involves paying an annual fee (which varies depending on the type of business) and in some places, like in the Alps, you might have to pay a tourist tax.

However, finding information or help in English at this stage can be difficult, and business consultant Miglena advises anyone struggling to reach out for help.

FOR MEMBERS: Digital nomad visas: How does Austria compare with other countries?

She said: “Many Austrians refuse to give advice in English, which is a curious thing. This applies to all kinds of professional services, but it’s important that we are understood.

“I don’t want people to be afraid. I want to make starting a business in Austria easy. Once you know how to do it, it’s fine. But it’s easy to feel lost and be overwhelmed by legal German words.”

Set up social insurance

The final stage in the process is to register with SVS – the social insurance fund for self-employed people in Austria.

It is mandatory for everyone living in Austria to have social insurance (or comprehensive private health insurance). It gives people access to public health care and includes pension contributions.

Registering with SVS has to take place within four weeks from the date of starting a business. You will then receive an e-card (if you don’t already have one) and start paying social insurance bills on a quarterly basis.

The good news about SVS payments though is that they are tax deductible, so don’t forget to include them in your bookkeeping.

Useful vocabulary

Business registration – Gewerbeanmeldung

Business licence – Gewerbeschein

New self-employed – Neu Selbständige

Social insurance – Sozialversicherung

Tax – Steuer

Tax office – Finanzamt

Useful links

Austrian tax office

Business Information System Austria (GISA)

Social insurance

Self-employed in Austria

Ministry of Labour and Economy

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