Jobs, Hope and La Lengua
More Spaniards are coming to Austria, but for many employment still remains elusive
Tied snugly into her apron and Dirndl, balancing plates of Schnitzel and mugs of house-brewed beer, Estela Muñoz is a journalist disguised as a waitress, having found a job in Vienna using the English and Spanish that had gotten her nowhere at home. Luckily for her, the traditional Austrian Gasthaus has plenty of international customers. And with the German speakers, she slides out from under with "Jetzt kommt mein Freund" – the life-saving line that lets her to keep afloat in work hours.
"When I became unemployed, I was very aware that the best option was leaving the country," Muñoz said, a refrain on many Spaniards’ minds. Despite its lovely climate and elaborate tapas so popular with the tourists, Spain isn’t really a country you can live in anymore.
It is a crisis of "youth brain drain" warned the BBC in 2011, with youth unemployment in Spain now reaching a high of 56.14% according to INE, the Spanish Statistical Office. In 2012, 476,748 people left Spain, of which only 59,724 were Spanish citizens.
Some of them land in Austria, a country repeatedly awarded the highest standard of living in international rankings, with an unemployment rate of just 4.6%.
"Working conditions are great in Austria," said Adrian Bolonio, a 27-year-old Spanish engineer working in Vienna. He is one of 3,903 Spanish citizens living in Austria – with 2,064 of those in Vienna alone, according to Statistik Austria, a number that has doubled since 2010.
All seems to go well
"I’m living very well in Vienna," said Bolonio, who has found his first permanent job in his field. This is the good face of the immigration coin. In Spain he was working off the books, until last September, when he packed his bags for Vienna to take two interviews he had already arranged from Spain. He never took the second one; just two hours after the first interview, he was offered a job.
"It was perfect," he said, smiling. "I was aware I had lot of possibilities. My English is quite good, and I have experience."
Bea Lainez, a 27-year-old computer engineer has also bid farewell to Madrid. After an online interview, she found a permanent job in Vienna as a testing engineer in a multinational company.
"Now I have twice the salary, a schedule they keep to the letter and a permanent contract. Nothing like before," Bea reported. "In Spain you need to have more than five years experience to get a job like mine, as companies can demand more due to the high number of unemployed." In part, it’s about respect, Bolonio confirmed. "I would not go back to Spain even if my salary here were 10% less than what I’m making now."
The language barrier
So for some, Austria has been a good choice for putting down roots, and integration has been easy in an international profession. "I didn’t need German to find my current job because the engineering world is in English," said Bolonio, and like Lainez, his German language skills are basic.
For other Spanish immigrants, the language is a bigger problem. Estela Muñoz has been buried in an Austrian restaurant since last January. As a journalist without German, working as a waitress is the best she can do.
"I need a really good German to work in my field here," she said, seated on the bench of MuseumsQuartier. Even with ten years of experience, three masters degrees and many relevant contacts, there is no possibility of working in the media in Austria. "My CV is quite good; I never saw myself working as a waitress," she admitted. Still, she tries not to overreact. "I prefer working as a waitress abroad than in Spain. At least I am learning another language," she said. You could even say she paid for the privilege, having "bought" her bar job through a recruitment agency.
Nuria de la Torre’s story is also extreme; she left her family in Spain when her youngest son was only 16. "It was a hard decision," she said. "But I didn’t want to be a burden for my children in the future, so I had to pluck up my courage," she explained, sitting in the shade of a broad-leafed chestnut tree in the Stadtpark. "In my country there are no jobs for young people," she went on, "so imagine how it is for older ones." At the unemployment office in Spain, one staffer told her that "a woman in her 50’s was dead as far as the workplace is concerned." So last January she grasped a chance through an Austrian friendship made in Spain.
"Making that step in my 50s, it was not a joke," she said. But she had to do something. Currently, she is working as a freelance consultant for an online project, while struggling to find a job in communications in which she trained. "Slowly but surely," she said, with a tired smile. While she is already fluent in five languages, she knows it is essential to know German to get a break in Austria, so she "put on steam with the German," and carries her CV with her at all times. "You never know," she said.
Mireia Suso and Jesús Sánchez came to Austria for love, leaving jobs in Spain behind. "My parents and friends told me I was crazy," Jesús admits. Nevertheless, Austria’s strong economy suggested it would be easy to find a foot hold in the labour market. So far, it hasn’t workedout that way.
"I have never been unemployed in Spain, and I am in Austria," said Mireia, a nutritionist. Here again, the language has been a barrier. Mareia needs German to fill vacancies for dieticians. And as a computer engineer, Jesús has found his English isn’t good enough.
"Sometimes," he said, "it’s necessary to move back to make a progress."