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Platzer and Laurent: Migration Trends and Integration Strategy in Austria

Austria has had in the last decades, just like many other European countries, a steady migration flow. The number of foreign citizens has risen steadily since 1961, where it was just over one percent, rising sharply in the 1990s, to the present 11.5%[1] (970,541 people counted in 2012). Out of a population of 8.44 million, almost one million are foreign citizens (11.5%); 18.6% of the population has a migration background[2], meaning they are either first- or second-generation migrants. Most migrants come from Germany (203,000), followed by Serbia/Montenegro/Kosovo (188,000), Turkey (160,000), Bosnia (135,000), Croatia (33,000), Romania (70,000), Czech Republic (45,000), Hungary (43,000), Italy (26,000), Russia (28,000), Slovakia (26,000), Macedonia (19,000), Slovenia (15,000), Bulgaria (16,000), Switzerland (14,000), China (14,000), Egypt (13,000), Iran (13,000), Philippines (12,000), and a handful of persons from Sub-Saharan Africa (primarily Nigerians) and Latin Americans [3]. The composition is not surprising, considering the geographical and historical links of Austria to the first 15 countries.

Austria still likes to remind itself that it was historically a Viel Voelker (multi-national) State. In fact, from 1867 to 1918 the Austro-Hungarian Empire comprised modern-day Austria, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, large parts of Serbia and Romania, and smaller parts of Italy, Montenegro, Poland, and Ukraine. At that time it was the second largest territory after Russia. However, after the First World War, Austria was reduced to its “German” Alpine core. Nonetheless, close ties remained through family, cultural, and economic ties. For those seeking a better place to practice their profession or seek a better life for their families, Austria was the nearest prosperous country (although for some the eventual goal was Germany, England, USA, Canada, or Australia).  

The new migrants face real challenges, however. First, the language, German, is complicated and is unlike any of the migrants' languages. Secondly, the migrants do face racism and xenophobia on the part of the native population who “fear” being overrun by foreigners[4]. The migrants themselves have drifted toward certain parts of Vienna and create communities that have few or no contact with the rest of society[5]. In some school districts they have overwhelmed the native Austrian-speaking children (49-78%). Approximately 11% of migrants are unemployed compared to 7% of Austrians[6]. Women often stay at home and have little inter-action with the native population. Many of the migrants work at jobs beneath them, as their degrees are not recognized.

Last year, a 24-year-old student, Sebastian Kurz, was appointed the State Secretary of Integration. With a determination to prove himself, he appointed an expert panel who have come up with a 20-point program for integration[7]. Each cluster of the program is divided in three categories: first “Tasks and Goals” are determined, then “Concrete Activities” are elaborated, and finally “Cooperation Partners” are selected.

The first cluster relates to learning German prior to emigration (distance learning, approved testing centers), providing German classes for long-term residents with a migration background (particularly for women), and strengthening participation in the education system (an extra year of kindergarten for children who have a different mother tongue than German as well as school material that meets their needs and interests).

The second cluster of the program relates to work and employment: recognizing and validating (more quickly) qualifications obtained abroad; ensuring the completion of school degrees through support measures; and promoting employment particularly for women migrants.

Another cluster pertains to the transmission of Austrian values and the Rule of Law. A “Red-White-Red” (the Austrian flag colors) reader containing the basic facts of Austrian democracy and the rights and duties of citizens will be prepared in 20 languages. More efforts will be made to raise interest in acquiring Austrian citizenship (most migrants do not seek citizenship).

The fourth cluster deals with health and social issues: on the one hand, promoting health awareness for health-impaired migrants, and on the other hand, making hospitals, doctors, and nurses more aware of the health needs of migrants (sensitivity training and hiring more migrant health staff). Another cluster relates to sport and recreation: improving the recreation facilities at schools and promoting integration into federal sports programs.

Intercultural dialogue is the fifth cluster of points. For this purpose “Forum.Islam” has been created, inviting representatives of Austrian federal states, national ministries, and also Islamic organizations to talk to and familiarize Muslim migrants with the habits of people in Austria. “Successful stories of migrants in Austria” is another project aiming at promoting migrants as role models. The main goal of this project is to encourage migrant adolescents to trust themselves and pursue better carrier. Furthermore, erasing insecurities in the media about the understanding and usage of complex terms in the field of migration and integration as well as the alien and asylum sector is another important goal the State Secretary of Integration wants to achieve. Therefore, the ministry is working on a catalogue with terms and definitions together with experts from the field of migration, integration, asylum, and alien law that will be distributed to the media. Moreover, a media Award will be given for comprehensive, factual articles about migration and integration, and young migrant journalists will be given internships and employment in newspapers and broadcasting.

Lastly, better spatial planning and improving the housing situation for migrants is seen as another important precondition for successful integration. To avoid segregation and related problems, the cities are already exchanging best practices and lessons learned. The housing management of the building must also become sensitized and learn conflict avoidance techniques. Finally integration skills must be promoted among municipal staff, down to the level of caretakers and janitors.

Recently, the expert group for integration reviewed what had been established until now and declared that already 10 out of the 20 points had been achieved since the program was published[8]. The clusters of “work and employment”, “language and education,” as well as “intercultural dialogue” were very successful, according to Heinz Fassman, chairman of the expert group for integration[9]. There is still much work to do on the projects regarding the living dimension of migrants.

In addition to the work of the State Secretary of Integration, there are already many non-governmental initiatives occurring in Austria. The “Grandma & Grandpa” project, for example, aranges for elderly Austrians meet with young migrants to teach them German or help them with school work. “Peppa” is an intercultural center for girls run by Caritas Austria that organizes workshops, learning assistance, excursions, and events for young migrant girls. “Ramadan-sharing without borders,” organized by Muslim Youth Austria, offers help to the homeless, poor, and unaccompanied minor asylum seekers during Ramadan. The photo exhibition about migration (Talent:Mensch Sein) communicated a positive view of migration and shows that the people in the pictures are first of all human beings.

The Academic Council on the United Nations (ACUNS) has also been very active in this field. ACUNS held a conference in December 2011 about “Equal Opportunities for Youth” with European Parliamentarians, juvenile judges, social workers, and teachers attending the conference. A binder of all sorts of interesting youth integration projects is now being prepared to be used by juvenile judges, police, schools, and parents who want to motivate their children to get involved in society.

Many countries all over the world face challenges when it comes to integration policies and strategies. Many countries do make the mistake of regarding integration as a one-way process, meaning that migrants have to assimilate to the culture of the country of destination. But slowly, many people understand that it is a mutual process and that people do have to adapt to a new culture and maybe new laws but that locals also have to welcome newcomers and let them be a part of their lives. This is the only way true integration can be achieved successfully, and hopefully Austria is on the right track.


  • Statistic Austria, 2011: Migration and Integration. Numbers, Data and Facts.

[1] Statistic Austria 2012

[2] Statistic Austria 2011

[3] Statistic Austria 2012

[4] Zara racism report 2011

[5] Statistic Austria 2011

[6] Statistic Austria 2011

[7] Integration report 2011

[8] Integration report 2012