Austrian minister wants foreigners to improve German level to keep social benefits

The Local Austria
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Austrian minister wants foreigners to improve German level to keep social benefits
A person studying. Photo by lilartsy on Unsplash

Austrian's Integration Minister, Susanne Raab, from the conservative ÖVP, has floated the idea of making it mandatory for immigrants to reach a certain level of German if receiving social benefits to better integrate them into the labour market.


Raab, of the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP), said she could envisage a system that saw people receiving certain types of social welfare support - known as Sozialhilfe - having to reach a "certain level of language proficiency" within a period of time to keep their benefits.

At the moment, she said, only attendance is compulsory in order not to lose social assistance.

Raab was speaking out at a presentation of the 'Integration Report' on Thursday, reported Austrian newspaper Der Standard.

"We are thinking about how to map this in law," Raab said. 

The minister also advocated for a waiting period for immigrants to be able to access social assistance in Austria based on the Danish model. 

As The Local reported, the ÖVP has stated that foreigners should live in Austria for five years before being eligible to claim benefits.

READ ALSO: How the ÖVP wants to make it harder for foreigners to access benefits

Raab said the social system should "not be an incentive" for immigration.

She said she had "no understanding" why so many people don't make the leap into the labour market despite completing several courses and are instead stuck in an "endless course loop".

"I think it is unacceptable, especially in the current labour market situation, that people spend years in the welfare system," Raab said, adding that it's not always about "German at university level", but about basic skills.

Of the foreign nationals who arrived in Austria in 2022, seven out of 10 had literacy needs, Raab said. This proportion is highest among Syrians, at 78 percent.

Katharina Pabel, chairperson of the integration advisory board, said there was a need to provide immigrants with more assistance. 

Pabel called for a more flexible German language offer, such as the online German learning units organised by the Integration Fund (ÖIF), which are tailored to entry-level jobs. 


However, there's strong opposition. 

The liberal NEOS party integration spokesman Yannick Shetty accused Raab of "further pandering to the FPÖ (Freedom Party) with the populist demand for cuts in social benefits".

Experts also hit back at the idea of establishing a 'performance requirement'.

Christoph Riedl, asylum expert at the Diakonie social welfare organisation, said he doubted linking performance in courses to benefits would be allowed under international law. The Geneva Convention on Refugees provides for equal treatment of refugees and citizens, he told Der Standard. 

According to Lukas Gahleitner-Gertz of the Asylkoordination group for asylum seekers, this requirement would have to apply to every nationality coming to Austria from abroad in order to be in line with EU law.

How many people with a migration background live in Austria?

Austria is a diverse country. The latest figures show that every fourth person in Austria has a migration background.

A total of 2.35 million people with a migration background lived in Austria in 2022, Tobias Thomas, Director General of Statistics Austria said on Thursday. The share of those whose parents were both born abroad rose from 25.4 percent the previous year to 26.4 percent of the total population at the end of 2022. 


The largest group of the 1.7 million foreigners living in Austria as of January 1st this year were German citizens (225,000), followed by Romanians (147,500), Serbians (121,900), and Turkish nationals (119,700).

The countries of origin Croatia, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Syria, Ukraine, and Poland are ranked in fifth to 10th spot. The strongest increases since 2015 in absolute numbers were among Romanians (with an increase of 74,100), Ukrainians (a hike of 71,000), Syrians (plus 70,900) and Germans (an increase of 54,500).


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