Unrestricted Access to the Labor Market for Ukrainian Refugees in Austria Decided

PeopleOther ♦ Published: June 6, 2024; 23:54 ♦ (Vindobona)

Ukrainians who have fled the war should be able to participate in the Austrian labor market permanently and without restrictions. The Social Affairs Committee of the National Council today pushed the extension of the “Red-White-Red Card Plus” towards a final decision in plenary. The governing parties ÖVP and Greens, as well as the NEOS, voted in favor, while initiatives by the NEOS and FPÖ on immigration were postponed.

The Social Affairs Committee of the National Council has decided to give Ukrainian refugees permanent and unrestricted access to the labor market in Austria by extending the Red-White-Red Card Plus. / Picture: © Thomas Topf / © Parlamentsdirektion

Affected Ukrainians can receive the “Red-White-Red Card Plus” if they have been employed above the marginal employment threshold for at least twelve months in the last 24 months and can support themselves. According to the explanations, this currently applies to around 7,000 displaced persons. Self-employed persons insured under the GSVG should also be able to obtain this card. The amendment also stipulates that displaced Ukrainian young people are subject to the education obligation applicable in Austria until the age of 18.

The changes are to come into force on October 1, 2024. This should provide sufficient time for the necessary preparations. In addition, the previous residence status of displaced persons will count towards the deadlines for acquiring a “permanent residence - EU” title or citizenship.

Comments on the amendment

Barbara Neßler (Greens) and Tanja Graf (ÖVP) argued that the extension of the “Red-White-Red Card plus” should give displaced persons long-term prospects. The regulation is a “foundation” on which to build further, explained Neßler. Employment Minister Martin Kocher described the move as an important first step, as extending the displaced person status agreed at the EU level beyond March 2025 would be legally complex. Access to the “Red-White-Red Card Plus” offers legal certainty for those affected and companies.

Gerald Loacker from the NEOS supported the initiative but spoke out in favor of a general simplification of the employment rules for foreign workers. Criticism came from Josef Muchitsch (SPÖ), however, who considered the income hurdles for obtaining the card to be too high. Dagmar Belakowitsch (FPÖ) also expressed concerns and saw no need for the amendment to the law.

Postponement of further immigration initiatives

Various NEOS and FPÖ initiatives on the subject of immigration were postponed. The NEOS is calling for a modern immigration law that reduces bureaucracy and attracts qualified workers. Specifically, they propose that only one authority should be responsible for the “Red-White-Red Card” and that procedures should take a maximum of one week.

The FPÖ is also calling for a stop to immigration into the Austrian welfare state. Among other things, they advocate limiting basic services to benefits in kind, obliging refugees to do community service without pay, and introducing a special tax for integrated persons. They are also calling for restrictions on access to the labor market for foreign workers, including EU citizens.

With the decision to extend the “Red-White-Red Card Plus”, Austria is setting an example for the long-term integration of Ukrainian refugees into the labor market. Despite criticism and concerns from some opposition parties, the regulation was approved by the majority of the Social Affairs Committee and is set to come into force in October 2024. However, the debate on immigration regulations remains a controversial topic in the Austrian National Council.

Austrian Parliament