Between collecting minimum income support and finding a job, there is no freedom of choice. Social support or minimum security for those who are able to work is dependent on their desire to use their own labour force. Benefits obtained by an employee who refuses appropriate labour may be diminished or, in rare circumstances, even completely revoked. The same holds true for refusing to take part in activities like German classes or other course requirements, as well as for breaking integration agreements.
Starting with the recognition of their protection status, refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection have free access to the labour market. However, several difficulties such as language barriers, lack of qualifications and/or lack of proof have to be overcome before successfully integrating into the labour market. The public budget for language courses has been increased significantly and, in most federal provinces, language courses are already offered during the asylum procedures, albeit in limited amounts.
The integration sector in 2022 was marked by a sharp increase in the number of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, as well as a large number of Ukrainian displaced persons seeking protection in Austria: the Austrian Integration Fund (ÖIF) responded to the changed framework conditions with appropriate offers. In 2022, the ÖIF’s integration centres reported over 250,000 counselling contacts throughout Austria, with around 11,200 individuals taking part in the values and orientation courses. Furthermore, in 2022, more than 66,000 German course spots were available throughout Austria.
According to current evaluations of the Austrian Integrationsfonds, the level of education of those having been granted protection in 2022 has fallen significantly compared to the years before: 7 out of 10 persons entitled to asylum and subsidiary protection who received asylum in the last 12 months and a German course according to the Integration Act visit have a need for literacy. In the last three years, this value has increased by half (2019: 48%), and by as much as 80% for men (41% vs. 73%).
However, there has been some public debate on the definition of literacy. Experts believe that 7 out of 10 is an exaggerated number and the challenge is being unintentionally “inflated”. Second language learners are not illiterate as they come to Austria. They are only supposed to learn a new and different writing system, which is not their native one.
There have been some improvements through targeted assessment of qualifications and facilitated recognition of work experience. The Act on Recognition and Evaluation entered into force on 12 July 2016 and accelerates the procedure for the recognition of education and professional qualifications obtained outside Austria. This decision aims at facilitating access to the labour market for refugees. Refugees or asylum seekers could also apply for recognition of their academic and professional qualifications, even if they cannot provide the documents as proof.
A study conducted in 2016-2017 involving 1,200 beneficiaries of international protection found group-specific differences in the integration to the labour market. Despite the shortage of skilled workers in Austria, former technicians seem to have had very little chances of finding work. The mismatch between qualifications and employment is high: more than 75% of respondents worked in a field which did not or only partially fit their academic background. 25% of respondents had participated in a competence check by the AMS, but participation in the check and value courses had no direct impact on the integration of their previous work experience; the potential effects of these recent measures are only expected to be made visible in the medium term.
Austria has set up a number of counselling and contact points, as well as an information portal (AST). In Vienna, however, all beneficiaries now undergo a competency evaluation. Where recognised beforehand, highly qualified persons in regulated profession e.g. doctors are sent to “Check In Plus” immediately to receive assistance in the recognition process.
Beneficiaries have to consult the Austrian Integration Fund (ÖIF) after they have received protection status. The ÖIF places these persons to language courses and courses on Austrian values. They have to register with the job centre and can then take part in job-related assistance measures, if their language proficiency is sufficient, or in language-related assistance measures. Surveys of the job centres found that 10% of persons with protection status can be integrated into the labour market within the first year.
On the other hand, since September 2017, beneficiaries of international protection who are able to work but cannot secure employment are required to complete a one-year standardised integration programme focusing on language acquisition, career orientation and vocational qualification (see Social Welfare).
Concerning labour forces, the imbalanced distribution of supply and demand within Austria also presents a challenge to integration into the labour market. Many persons with protection status relocate into urban centres, especially Vienna, where the unemployment rate is also higher than in the western federal provinces. There is a great demand for workers in the tourism regions of the West. In the public debate, the tense situation of the Austrian labour market is one area which is used to argue in favour of the closing of borders.
In July 2019, the director of the Labour Market Service stated that 40% of all recognised refugees in 2016 had found employment, and that 35% of recognised refugees from 2017 had also found employment. In total, around 9% of all persons registered as unemployed were asylum status holders, and 20% of all unemployed beneficiaries of international protection under 25 years were residing in Vienna. In July 2021, the Head of the Labour Market Service announced that out of the 9,500 persons that were granted asylum in 2015 and subsequently registered at the Labour Market Service, more than 50% had found employment. Nevertheless, refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection were heavily affected by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic on the labour market. Women, in particular, lost work, and their integration into the labour market has deteriorated in this aspect according to the Head of the Labour Market Service.
A total of 327,308 persons were listed as unemployed or in training by the end of April 2022, which is 106,135 fewer than at the same time in 2021 or 24.5% fewer people. Compared to April 2021, the decrease in absolute numbers is greatest in Vienna (-32,540), Lower Austria (-15,842) and Tyrol (-12,180), in relative terms in Tyrol (-40.7%), Salzburg (-39.2 %) and Lower Austria (-29.4%). According to a nationwide assessment, the unemployment rate is 6.1%, which is 2.5% lower than it was in 2021.