AUSTRIA: EU pressure over foreign student jobs

The European Union is putting pressure on Austria to allow non-EU students to work in the country to pay for their studies. The EU's executive, the European Commission, says Austrian authorities have failed to comply with an EU directive stipulating corresponding laws, regulations and administrative procedures. Now the commission has referred the issue to the European Court of Justice.

EU directive 2004/114/EC of 13 December 2004 requires that provisions be made allowing students to work for money to help fund their studies. Article 17 of the directive states: "Outside their study time and subject to the rules and conditions applicable to the relevant activity in the host member state, students shall be entitled to be employed and may be entitled to exercise self-employed economic activity."

Austrian legislation provides that before granting any work permit to a student of a non-EU country the national labour office must first take into account the labour market situation. But the directive stresses in such cases access for students to the labour market should be a general rule that only allows host member states to consider local unemployment as a reason to refuse work permits in exceptional circumstances.

Member states do, however, have the opportunity to fix the maximum number of hours per week or days or months per year that students may work.

The deadline for transposing the EU rules into member states' national laws was 12 January 2007. The commission states this has not happened properly in Austria and has decided to initiate procedures against Austria via the European Court of Justice.

On several occasions, Austria's universities conference, Uniko, has criticised the state authorities for "giving wrong information", complained of "uncooperative consular officials" and stressed the generally prolonged procedures for students from non-EU countries.

Wolfgang Wegscheider, Rector of Montan University in Leoben and chairman of Uniko's forum on international affairs, has called on Austria's Foreign Secretary Michael Spindelegger, Minister of the Interior Maria Fekter and Minister of Science and Research Beatrix Karl to "address the unresolved problems relating particularly to students from non-EU countries".

Wegscheider said university bodies responsible for internationalisation had repeatedly reported considerable problems with authorities representing Austria abroad, with applicants for study courses being given wrong information about conditions of entry and residence.

He called the lengthy procedures and lack of cooperation on the part of authorities a "severe impediment to our attempts to internationalise Austrian universities", and added: "This behaviour is creating an image of Austria that we feel is untenable in an academic context".

Students are still experiencing considerable problems regarding applications for residence permits and access to the Austrian labour market, Wegscheider complained. In order to maintain Austria's attractiveness to international students and therefore to future researchers, "cutting red tape in awarding residence and work permits is essential," he said.

Austria's students' union Österreichische HochschülerInnenschaft, or ÖH, welcomed the European Commission's recent move. "The idleness of the Austrian federal government is outrageous - the directive should already have been transposed in early 2007," said Thomas Wallenberger of the ÖH presidency team.

ÖH general secretary Miriam Müller maintained: "Discrimination against foreigners from non-EU countries is unacceptable - it is not only the authorities that are putting obstructions in the way of students. The government itself is also ignoring the EU directive and demonstrating its incompetence."

"We demand that the EU directive immediately be transposed into Austrian law," said Sigrid Maurer, also of the ÖH team.