About a year ago, Minister of Labor Kocher pointed out in the Standard that “competition for qualified workers from abroad” would arise. The problem has worsened since then. But there are possible solutions.
The fact that Austria has had a glaring shortage of skilled workers in specific industries for years is constantly emphasized by stakeholders from business and politics. Notwithstanding these statements, the list of occupations with shortages is growing longer and longer.
However, shortages exist not only in listed occupations, but also in other occupations due to structural causes. However, adding new occupations to the shortage list can take time. Too long. Sometimes years.
A politically unwanted topic in this debate is the migration of skilled workers from abroad. Since there is a shortage of skilled workers not only in Austria but also in almost all other European industrialized countries, the competition between states mentioned by Minister Kocher arises. In this competition, according to Kocher, the attractiveness of the business and work location, such as taxation, opportunities for self-development and qualification of employees would play a decisive role.
The attractiveness of small Austria should not be underestimated. As an austrian agency for the migration of skilled workers, we are constantly surprised at how positively Austria is perceived, even in comparison with countries with considerably greater economic power. Unfortunately, we take too little advantage of this fact.
Authorities as a problem
Supporting qualified workers in their migration plans on the basis of the “Settlement and Residence Act” (NAG) is our daily work. Unfortunately, however, we notice a glaring discrepancy between the need mentioned by Labor Minister Kocher to bring the best foreign skilled workers to Austria and the official work required for this, which must be described as far too restrictive. This may also be due to the fact that the public debate does not sufficiently distinguish between asylum (not our topic) and immigration.
For the most part, the immigration of skilled workers from abroad is clearly regulated and, in the situation described by Kocher, would not also require a strict interpretation of the law. We observe a considerable West-East divide in the work of the authorities. Whereas in the West the seriousness of the situation seems to have been recognized, in the East the authorities still behave in a dusty and restrictive manner, which is surprising in view of the divergent political majorities, especially in Vienna.
A specific form of immigration is the so-called RWR card for self-employed key workers, which causes enormous problems. It would be designed to enable qualified workers from abroad to start a business in Austria and then, in turn, create more jobs. The business idea must therefore be credible and this is – admittedly – only the case for a minority. The current success rate is about 15%. That is not very high at all. The approach of the authorities is too restrictive, according to most experts on immigration law. Economically highly interesting projects are shot down by officials, and more and more lawyers and aliens’ rights organizations are withdrawing from the arduous struggle of clients willing to set up businesses.
3 steps to better position Austria in attracting the best professionals
1. Authority Culture
It would be desirable to engage the authorities (especially those in eastern Austria) more strongly in attracting the best foreign workers. External experts must be perceived by the authorities as supporters. Every employee of the departments in the public service is urged to always keep in mind the statements of Labor Minister Kocher. A radical rethink is indeed called for here.
2. Decision-making committees
In the case of the RWR card for self-employed key workers, the only relevant criterion for granting the residence title is currently the question of whether “the self-employment activity is associated with a macroeconomic benefit for Austria that goes beyond the purely operational benefit”. This question is assessed by a commission consisting mainly of members of the social partners, for all sectors and all projects, whose assessment of this question requires detailed, relevant expertise! If the legislator gives the authorities so much leeway with such a general formulation, then in my view, in the interest of competition, an idea should at least be given a chance in case of doubt rather than being rejected.
3. Changes in the law
The legislator itself can also take remedial action in this respect. Given the lack of concrete general wording, it is not surprising that the Commission’s assessment often appears arbitrary (the 4 cases listed as examples are obviously not sufficient for this purpose). This can only be reliably prevented if the leeway of the authorities is dramatically limited by using clearer criteria and thus making decisions of the Commission more predictable. Better predictability would then make it easier for all upstream organizations to assess whether or not it makes sense to support clients’ start-up plans.
Conclusion: even if migration is a political hot potato, the international competition for the best skilled workers mentioned by Kocher also requires setting a course. Otherwise, the best foreign workers will work in other attractive countries in Europe or set up companies there.
Christian Dopplmair is the owner of a so-called relocation agency in Austria. After his studies in commerce at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration, he was, among other things, the foreign managing director of various sales companies of voestalpine for many years and founded the relocation agency ERVICo a few years after his return to Austria.