Austria wants to tie minimum income to German language skills

A participant writes on a blackboard during a German language course of the 'Fluechtlingsprojekt Ute Bock' (Refugees project Ute Bock) in Vienna, Austria, 23 February 2016. [EPA/CHRISTIAN BRUNA]

The amount of the minimum income protection in Austria is now to be made dependent on the German language skills, among other things. EURACTIV Germany reports from Vienna.

In each of the nine Austrian states, there is currently a separate minimum income scheme. Now the Austrian government has decided to create a nationwide legal regulation, which should be decided by the summer.

The general aim is to make immigration into the Austrian social system more difficult and to curb “minimum income tourism” between the federal states. Vienna also plans to make a distinction in the new system between immigrants and people who have already paid into the system.

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In detail, this means that a five-year waiting period is to be introduced for EU foreigners in order to receive full benefits. Accurate to the cent, €863.04 is provided monthly, which should be almost equally high nationwide.

According to the new regulation, recognised refugees and immigrants with bad German should, however, in the future receive €300 less – at least level B1 of the European Reference Framework should serve as an indicator of the knowledge of German in the future:

“German is the key to full minimum income,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said in a statement.

In contrast to the families, there is an improvement for single parents: They, for example, receive € 100 for the first underage child, €75 for their second child and €50 for the third child.

Opposition voices criticism

In recent months, there has been an intense debate between the Conservative and Social Democrat-led federal states on the minimum income and the repeatedly discussed reform. This has changed little even after the presentation of this proposal.

However, the tone is not as high-pitched as it used to be, especially as the general opinion has prevailed that the previous system was not fair. There is, therefore, a chance that an agreement will be reached by negotiation.

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The prevalent opinion among experts, the opinion has prevailed that it requires an incentive for the refugees and asylum seekers to use the various integration offers. This includes, in particular, learning the German language.

Critics have questioned whether the minimum income is the right tool: “What a great government, those who do not speak enough German should starve and become homeless,” it a common comment on various Facebook posts.

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