21st Jun 2021

Austria eyes language tests for migrants

The Austrian government is eyeing tougher immigration rules, including asking prospective new residents to learn German before arriving in the country, as is already the case in the Netherlands.

"Mastering German language is a prerequisite for successful integration," a new action plan for immigration tabled on Tuesday (15 January) by the centre-right minister of interior, Maria Fekter, said.

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  • Back in the 90s, Austria was the preferred destination for Bosnian refugees (Photo: Wikipedia)

Under the draft proposals, higher levels of German will be required from migrants already living in the country and for spouses or family members who want to join them.

Until now, a basic level - for instance being able to communicate with a doctor - was enough while applying for a residence permit . But if the new law goes through, language proficiency enabling the migrant to access the labour market will be mandatory, with the government empowered to expel people who do not come up to scratch.

According to the latest available figures, over 800,000 foreigners live in Austria, representing roughly 10 percent of the overall population.

The largest group of immigrants – some 300,000 – are refugees from the former Yugoslavia, followed closely by Turks, who form the largest ethnic minority.

One of the reasons Austria is resisting Turkey's EU membership is fear that family re-unifications of resident Turks could one day see Turkish people outnumber natives.

Green politicians and civil rights groups have slammed Ms Fekter's project as a "sharpening" of immigration policy, which is already a playground for far-right groups.

The Red Cross also said that mandatory language classes before entering the country were "expensive and not feasible in practice." In some countries, people have to travel long distances to the EU embassies or even face danger to do so.

The right-wing opposition said the project was too soft and should be replaced with a "reduction policy" for migrants already in the country, however.

Last week, the government in Vienna decided to keep the quota for legal migration in 2010 at just 8,145 people, the same as 2009. Based on past trends, more than half of the new immigrants will come to Austria for family re-unification, while some 2,500 will be highly-skilled workers.

Similar language tests were introduced in 2006 in the Netherlands, another EU country with a high immigration rate.

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