Austrian Cabinet adopts new rules for foreigners

AP News
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Posted: Feb 22, 2011 12:31 PM
Austrian Cabinet adopts new rules for foreigners

Austria's Cabinet on Tuesday approved new immigration and asylum rules, amid criticism from the United Nations and others.

Some of the new measures will see asylum seekers confined to special centers for up to seven days on arrival while their refugee status is analyzed, while others require some immigrants to have German proficiency before entering the country.

In a statement, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees expressed concern about the confinement aspects of the new measures, saying this was equal to "detention with the doors open," since those who fail to comply face deportation.

The UNHCR also warned of a "step back for the protection of refugees."

According to the Interior Ministry, children under the age of 14 will not be taken into custody while awaiting deportation under the new measures. But the UNHCR said minors aged 16 to 18 will still face that fate. "All children must have the same protection," it said.

Interior Minister Maria Fekter, a hard-liner on issues relating to asylum, said the requirement will prevent people from disappearing while they await word on whether they're allowed to stay in the country.

"If someone asks us for protection, then they'll get it if they have (genuine) asylum reasons," Fekter said.

Under the new rules, Cabinet members say a new "red-white-red" work permit will make it easier for more qualified foreigners from outside the European Union to fill gaps left by an aging labor force.

Social Affairs Minister Rudolf Hundstorfer said it will allow non-EU citizens to apply for the jobs Austria is having a problem filling. It is currently very difficult for non-EU foreigners to work in Austria legally because employers need to justify taking a non-EU citizen over locals and other EU citizens.

"Austria needs qualified immigrants," Hundstorfer said in a statement.

Vienna Mayor Michael Haeupl, meanwhile, said some of the measures approved Tuesday were unfair since qualified workers won't have to learn German before coming to Austria _ while others will.

"The university professor can come here without German skills but the cleaning lady can't _ and that's fair?" Haeupl said.

The measures now go to parliament for approval.