The Enemy is Us

‘Stupid’ and ‘Counterproductive,’ the Foreigners Law Has Ever More Critics

Opinion | Lavdim Ismaili | May 2007

The President of the Austrian Constitutional Court, Karl Korinek, thinks the Fremdenrecht (Foreigners Law) is stupid – although he admitted that stupidity is not necessarily unconstitutional.

Alexander Van der Bellen, the Green Party’s federal spokesman, thinks it is counterproductive and cries out for reform.

The new Foreigners Law, in effect since Jan. 1, 2006, has its enemies.

Originally designed to speed up the processing of asylum-seekers and prevent abuses to the system, it turns out to be doing something altogether different.

The critics are legion, ranging from university officials, citizen groups and politicians, to those most affected by it, the foreigners. All say it has created only a more rigid bureaucracy with obscure regulations pushing away foreign job seekers, and has not done much to solve the large number of delayed asylum cases.

In a recent interview for Der Standard, Van der Bellen, also an economist, said the law handles foreigners as a security problem, which in turn puts Austria at a disadvantage, since immigrants are a vital part of its socio-economic landscape.

According to the Austrian Ministry of the Interior, 72% fewer residency permits were issued since the ratification of the Foreigners Law.

In addition, many existing work permits have been revoked, going as far as repatriating qualified foreign workers.

The often contradictory prerequisites for obtaining a work permit are effectively driving foreign job seekers out of the country and creating a negative image for Austria. Thus many who recognize the importance of qualified foreign cadres for the Austrian economy have voiced their strong disapproval of the law.

The good news is that the extensive media coverage  or the law’s implications and the many dissenting voices in top positions may yet lead to substantial reform. In Upper Austria, for example,  a recent resolution guarantees integrated foreigners – who would otherwise be deported – the right to stay in the country, thus in effect shooting down several incongruous provisions of the Fremdenrecht.

If they’re lucky, many foreigners in Austria may soon no longer have to deal with the punishing implications of this poorly conceived law. But others, on whom the full weight of the Fremdenrecht has already fallen, will just have to make peace with what has become their reality.

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