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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
Austria wants to make it easier for workers in shortage occupations, including IT, health, and tourism, to immigrate. (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.

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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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Austria extends its short-term work system until the end of 2022

The Kurzarbeit system was limited until June; the Federal Government this Tuesday extended its validity.

Austria extends its short-term work system until the end of 2022

Austria’s short-term works scheme, the Kurzarbeit, which was set to expire by the end of June, was officially extended until the end of the year.

The scheme allows companies particularly affected by the coronavirus pandemic to ask for government assistance as long as they keep their workforce. Employees in Kurzarbeit work fewer hours and receive a fraction of their salary, paid by the scheme – up to 90 per cent, depending on their pay.

Discussions are still ongoing between the trade union and the Chamber of Commerce on the details of the short-time work extension, broadcaster ORF reported.

Employers want the government to increase the percentage of the salary paid to workers, asking all employees receive a 90 per cent net replacement for wages. Workers with higher salaries could receive as little as 70 per cent of their wages from the scheme, leading to a significant loss of income.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to get your €500 Kurzarbeit bonus in Austria

Austria’s Labour Minister Martin Kocher said that the extension was only possible after “significant compromises” and that the system will only exist in very specific cases in the future. He didn’t give further details, though.

One of the reasons for the extension, ORF reports, was to cushion the economic consequences of the Ukraine war.

Kurzarbeit and unemployment rates

April 2020 saw the highest number of people, more than one million, on the scheme. Around 53,000 people were still pre-registered for short-time work at the beginning of the week. From March 2020 to the end of March 2022, government spending on coronavirus short-time labour amounted to € 9.56 billion.

READ ALSO: Six official websites to know if you’re planning to work in Austria

At the same time, the domestic labour market has seen a decrease in unemployment, even with the slowdown due to the war in Ukraine and soaring energy prices.

Compared to just one week ago, 4,216 fewer people were unemployed. Currently, 324,977 people are registered with the Public Employment Service Austria (AMS) as unemployed or in training. 251,633 of them are looking for a job, and 73,344 are in training measures of the AMS.