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Country Profiles Migration: Data - History - Politics

Heinz Fassmann

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Heinz Fassmann is Professor of Applied Geography at the University of Vienna, Chairman of the Commission for Migration and Integration Research at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Chairman of the Expert Council on Integration at the Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs and a member of the Migration Council at the Federal Ministry of the Interior.

Austria is experiencing record immigration. The reason for this development is the immigration of workers from the EU member states and of people seeking asylum. The integration of these immigrants is a challenge that the country has to face.

Refugees wait for their onward journey at the Austrian border in Nickelsdorf in Burgenland. Their number is unlikely to die down. A reasonably realistic prognosis must assume that the political and armed conflicts in the Middle East, Ukraine and the Caucasus will result in significant asylum immigration in the years to come. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

The current development (2010-2015) in Austria is characterized by a steady increase in immigration. 700,000 people have immigrated to Austria since 2010, if you subtract the number of emigrants, the result is a net immigration of +222,000 people. The positive immigration balance in 2014 was +72,000 and will definitely be exceeded again in 2015. Austria is experiencing record immigration, comparable to immigration in the first half of the 1990s.

The drivers of this development are the labor migration from the EU member states, especially from Hungary, Romania and Poland, the immigration of students, especially from Germany, and the migration of refugees. The latter literally exploded in 2015. War refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan who enter the EU in Greece and then migrate on to Austria and Germany via Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary are causing the numbers to rise rapidly. A reasonably realistic prognosis must assume that the political and armed conflicts in the Middle East, Ukraine and the Caucasus will result in significant asylum immigration in the years to come.

The record immigration of recent years presents Austria with considerable challenges. The sudden increase in population requires a housing offensive that must quickly lead to new and inexpensive apartments, capacities in the kindergarten and school areas must be expanded and post-qualification measures will be necessary to help war refugees, who are likely to stay in Austria longer, in integrate the labor market. This requires a considerable amount of public funds to be used. That is one of the reasons why the high asylum immigration is viewed negatively by parts of politics and civil society. The other reasons lie in the noticeable loss of control by the nation state, which cannot assert itself at the border and whose efforts to regulate the country are being thwarted by refugees who enter the country unchecked. The images in the media reporting on it unsettle the population to a considerable extent. Added to this is the observation that the majority of the refugees from the crisis and war zones are Muslim, which increases the fear of cultural conflicts and the return to a pre-secular era.

But the situation can also be mastered with seriousness. However, this requires a return to controlled and somewhat predictable immigration and the establishment of qualification and integration measures. Austria faces considerable demographic challenges. The transition of the baby boom generation into retirement is accompanied by a much smaller cohort of young people entering the labor market for the first time. This poses problems not only for the economy, but also for the social systems, as more and more beneficiaries will face fewer and fewer service providers (i.e. payers). The integration of both new immigrants and migrants who have been resident for a long time can compensate for this expected drop in the labor supply. Against this background, the war refugees who are currently immigrating may also be seen in the future as a welcome reservoir to close the gaps on the labor market.

This text is part of the country profile Austria.