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Austria: Land of Immigration

Opening of the Youth Center ECHO,
founded by Youth of the Second Generation (Jugendliche der 2. Generation), Vienna 1999
© Robert Newald

As early as the second half of the 19th century there were mass migrations of people from the crown lands of the Imperial and Royal (k.u.k.) Monarchy to Austria, above all to its capital, the Residence City of Vienna. (Since the end of the Second World War there has again been a wave of migration to Austria, this time hundreds of thousands of migratory workers, asylum seekers, and people driven out of their homelands.

"Gastarbeiter Policy"
In the beginning of the 1960s, Austria began to recruit so-called "Gastarbeiter" [guest-workers], largely from Yugoslavia and Turkey. Like Germany and Switzerland, Austria also originally planned to bring migratory workers into the country only on a short-term basis. This so-called "rotation-principle" soon proved to be completely out of line with reality and was already replaced in the 1960s with prospects of longer term occupation and of the permanent settlement of immigrant families. A second and third generation began to grow up. Immigration policy was faced therefore with new challenges, for example, in the matter of civil rights for immigrants or integration in the school system for children whose native language was not German. Many of the problems have not been adequately solved right up to today. On the contrary. The rules set down in Austrian laws dealing with aliens (Alien Law, Residence Permit Law, Work Permit Law) were tightened after the opening of the Eastern borders at the beginning of the 1990s. Today immigrants who lose their jobs can be all too easily lost in the legal jungle of the residence authorities, even if they have lived here for decades. The number of people who come to Austria as migratory workers depends mainly on the requirements of the economy, and since 1993 this is regulated through quotas. The overwhelming majority of migratory workers in Austria have, and always did have, the worst paid jobs, men, for example, in construction, and women in cleaning. The concentration of certain groups in certain work areas is primarily a result of restricted access to Austrian labor markets for immigrants from non-EU-countries. For employees from the new EU-member states of Eastern Europe a transitional period was introduced in regard to access to the labor market of the former EU-member states. According to this, the "old EU member-states" can decide after 2 then 3 and then again after 3 more years, to what extent they want they want to open their labor market to the new EU citizens. Austria has already announced that it will make use of the full transitional period of seven years (i.e., until 2011)...

The "new" Gastarbeiter
After the original so-called "Gastarbeiter," new migratory workers have come to Austria since the end of the 1980s from Middle and Eastern Europe and from other parts of the world. Thus, for example, nurses have been brought into Austrian hospitals from the Philippines and other Asian countries.

Social scientists now identify a new type of migratory worker, different from the "classical" migratory workers from the former Yugoslavia and Turkey who constituted a relatively homogeneous group. Today, there are, for example, new forms of a female "servant migration" that recalls the "old" immigration of Bohemian cooks. Furthermore there are now more and more "commuter-migrants" and seasonal workers who are employed primarily in construction, in agriculture and in tourism. These "new" guest-workers are for the most part finding jobs in the same areas as the migrants from the "old" guest-worker-countries, and they, the "new" ones, are preferred by employers because of their greater flexibility and mobility as well as their willingness to work for the lowest wages. The "old" work-force has already been "proletarianized" and makes bigger demands." (cf. Christiane Hintermann: Die 'neue' Zuwanderung nach Österreich. Eine Analyse der Entwicklungen seit Mitte der 1980er Jahre [The 'New' Emigration to Austria. An Analysis of Developments since the Middle of the 1980s). In: SWS-Rundschau [Sozialwissenschaftliche Studien Rundschau, Social Science Studies Perspectives], Heft 1/2000, p.21)
Interesting in this connection is the so-called Services Directive for the liberalization of services in the EU-internal market which was adopted in February 2006 by the European Parliament. One of the most controversial points in the discussion was the so-called "country-of-origin priniciple" according to which the service-providers would be subject to the laws of their country of origin and not to those of the member state in which they were working. Shortly before the adoption of the Directive however the "country-of-origin principle" was stricken from the Directive and instead the principle was maintained that service providers would have to hold to all the regulations of the labor and wage law and all social laws of the country in which they provided their services.

Inadequate Integration
Measures to further integration have not been adequately taken in all these years. People without an Austrian passport who do not come from an EU-country are largely excluded from the right of participation in decision-making, for example, in the workplace. Unlike in Germany, they cannot become members of works or factory committees. They are on the whole allowed only the active not the passive right to vote for such committees.

Contrary to the situation in most Western European states, immigrants in Austria are still barred from active participation in local government politics. An attempt was made in Vienna in December 2002 to introduce in the municipal districts the right to vote in local elections for immigrants who had had their main residence in Vienna for at least five years. The Federal Government brought an objection in February and so this resolution had to be backed up in April 2003 by an "override resolution." Finally however it fell through altogether when an appeal to the Constitutional Court was brought jointly by the ÖVP (Austrian People's Party) and the FPÖ (Freedom Party of Austria). The Court rescinded the "Immigrants' Right to Vote" on June 30, 2004 on the basis that Austrian citizenship was an absolutely necessary prerequisite of the right to vote. In the Netherlands, in Sweden, or Denmark immigrants can take part after some years residence in local and provincial elections. By comparison with the rest of Europe, the process of becoming a citizen in Austria is also handled restrictively. Austrian citizenship is geared to the so-called "ius sanguinis," the "law of blood." In Austria, children born to foreigners therefore count automatically as foreigners "by extraction." The situation is quite different, for example, in Great Britain, where the "ius soli" is in force, the "law of the soil," according to which immigrants' children born on British soil have a right to become citizens. Numerous recommendations have been made by the Council of Europe and the EU-Commission declaring support, in principle, for closer integration and equality for immigrants and members of "third states" in the EU member states. Austria is very much bringing up the rear in this matter within the European Union.

Station: Austria: Land of Immigration
(Last update: 03/2006)

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