Austria has a big problem to solve in the short term: its labour shortage in the health sector.
It’s a demographic issue, with thousands of doctors and nurses expected to retire in the coming years, but also a labour one.
The country’s health minister, Johannes Rauch (Greens), said on Tuesday the only solution for this problem is to turn abroad to attract professionals.
“We have a labour shortage in Austria and will need immigration in the health and social sector. We can’t solve it any other way. It simply doesn’t work out in terms of demographics”, he told the daily Der Standard.
What is the current situation in Austria and what will the government do?
Many staff have given up the health profession citing the long hours, stressful work days and salaries they say are just not worth the pressure that comes with the job.
The Covid-19 pandemic merely increased the pressure on doctors and nurses forcing them to work yet longer hours.
“You only hear terrible things about working hours, pay and more from the nursing profession at the moment,” said Katharina Reich, Chief Medical Officer.
Earlier this year, the Federal Government unveiled a €1 billion reform package to improve working conditions for health sector professionals. At the time, health minister Rauch said that the package would include higher salaries for nurses.
“There will be massive measures to make the nursing profession more attractive”, the minister said when the package was unveiled in May.
He said the ministry hoped simplifying processes would help bring 75,000 workers to the sector by 2030.
Rauch didn’t specify how they would attract foreign workers. Currently, getting a visa and having your qualifications accepted to practise medicine and work in the health sector is a lengthy and costly process in Austria.
As part of the government measures announced in May, nurses who complete vocational training will receive “significantly more” points to access the so-called Rot Weiss Rot (RWR) residence permit in the future.
The government will also increase the points for older professionals, facilitating the entry of nurses from 40 to 50 years old.
RWR applicants need to reach a certain threshold of points based on criteria including age and education to get the permit.
The government promised that the recognition of training acquired abroad would be significantly simplified, accelerated and made free the burden of paperwork, but not much has been announced since May.
However, nurses should be able to work as nursing assistants until their foreign qualifications are formally recognised in the future. Still, no changes have been officially introduced yet.