Migrant Women and Labor in Austria
Precarious conditions due to regulations on work and residence permits


In 2006, a new law governing long and short-term residency for foreigners (Niederlassungs- und Aufenthaltgesetz or NAG) and a new law governing how the executive deals with foreigners (Fremdenpolizeigesetz or FPG) came into effect in Austria. The changes due to these new laws have drastically worsened the already extremely precarious situation of migrant women (or women from so-called third countries) on the labor market and in their everyday lives. Legal experts view these amendments as massive violations of the European Commission of Human Rights.

In Austria, the country of origin determines one's legal status. It is important to determine where a migrant woman is from, that is, whether she is from one of the "older" EU countries, one of the new EU member countries, or from a country outside the "insular" EU. There are substantial differences regarding one's access to legal rights, which shape the core of one's living and working conditions. In Austria, the right to work is bound to the status of residency. In addition, there is a range of different permit titles (1), thus creating different categories of migrants in Austria. The legal situation of migrant women not only puts them in a weaker social position, it also has far-reaching effects on all aspects of their lives.

Under the previous laws, migrant women already had very limited in terms of possibilities for obtaining a permit for permanent residency. There was the option of joining one's family, as a wife. The new laws continue to allow for this. The residence title for so-called "key employees," which poses another option for obtaining a long-term residence permit, has been and still is only available if extremely detailed prerequisites can be fulfilled. Due to the disparity in income, which means that women continue to receive much less pay for equal work, migrant women have been are still rarely able to fulfill this particular requirement for qualifying as a key employee. Migrant women have been and are still be driven into sectors that display a great need for cheap labor, such as cleaning, household assistance, the care industries, etc.

Another possible way of obtaining a longer-term residence permit has been to apply as an artist, scientist, or journalist. The new NAG, however, now only grants temporary residence permits to these occupational groups. This also applies to all persons who previously had a longer-term residence permit (Niederlassungsbewilligung) as an artist, for these same people who apply for a renewal under the new NAG the long-term residency status will be changed to a temporary permit (Aufenthaltsbewilligung). Under the previous laws a special decree enabled sex workers to obtain a temporary residence permit for a restricted period and then apply for an extension. Under the new law, the option of extension has been omitted without substitution. Women in possession of this type of residence permit can now only apply for a visa without the possibility of extension in Austria.

FRG increases women's dependency on their husbands

The new laws make it clear that migrant women have hardly any other ways of procuring a long-term residence permit without being a dependent bound to a specific family situation. The new legal circumstances therefore (further) solidify migrant women's dependency on men. Because their residential status is almost exclusively bound to their status as a family member (wife), many migrant women endure violent relationships to avoid jeopardizing or losing their entitlement to residency. After five years of marriage, citizens of non-EEC countries may apply for a permanent, independent residence permit. The new NAG, however, entails clauses (§ 27 and § 47 NAG) which enable women to apply for their own residence permits (independent from their husbands) before five years have passed, i.e. in particular cases of hardship (such as family violence). This is not an easy route to take, as applicants must also show proof of sufficient income, meaning a migrant woman must provide evidence of at least EUR 747 net income per month (per 2008). The majority of the dependents most eager to apply for independent permits, however, are only able to find work in the lowest income sectors. For this reason, the prospect of being able to independently earn the legally prescribed level of income becomes a sheer insurmountable obstacle, particularly when proof of additional income to support children also applies.

The focus is on marketing in the economy

Furthermore, the disadvantaged position of migrant women and the reproduction of discriminatory structures in Austria are visible in the existing structures in the economy that tend to reflect the predominant hegemonic structures. This is clearly reflected in the practices and policies around employment and education placement as well as in the number of migrant women who hold representative functions. (ANAR 2007) At the same time, predefined quotas and the primacy of employment of Austrians (Primat der Inländer/innenbeschäftigung) aim to "protect" the places of employment for the social majority and to fully subordinate the employment of migrants to Austria's national economic interests (2). This effective and targeted exclusion of migrants from legal forms of employment stabilizes the economy by utilizing migrants as "a buffer and silent army of reserves." (Duttweiler 2006)

Migrant women who have legal access to the labor market are also confronted with major discrimination in education and on the labor market, particularly regarding the limitations to accessing qualified sectors of the labor market. Migrant women are also subject to systematic disqualification through the type of advice they receive regarding their education and employment opportunities, which dovetails into the everyday reality of the labor market and contributes to upholding a strong segmentation of the labor market. (Sadjed et al 2007) Discourses surrounding issues of integration portray systematic, structural exclusion from the educational system and labor market as an effect i.e. result of a person's (subjective) deficits and disregarding the legal framework and conditions.

In the past few years, rather than directing policy discussions toward structurally and socially established mechanisms of discrimination, the main focus has been on the social and economic "added value" of including migrant women in the labor market. At the same time, while grassroots organizations are fighting for migrant women to be granted access to the formal labor market, companies appropriate their guidelines and concepts, parade them as their own in order to representing their company as "cosmopolitan" and "intercultural." The discourse in Austria also mainly draws on neoliberal positions that are largely focused on the marketing in the economy strategies of so-called "human resources" in order to securing their own competitive advantage. Critical voices against restrictive employment policies in Austria also link their arguments for demands for the liberalization of the labor market to demographic developments and gaps in certain employment sectors.



1) Presently the following titles apply to the right to work in Austria: Beschäftigungsbewilligung (employment permit), Befreiungsschein (unrestricted work permit for five years), Arbeitserlaubnis (restricted work permit for two years), Entsendebewilligung (assignment permit), and Schlüsselkraftbestätigung (key employee statement).

2) The “primacy of employment for Austrians” is a regulation that makes sure before a work permit is issued to a migrant that the officials assess if this particular job could possibly be done by an Austrian or another “integrated foreigner.” This also implies that the first workers to be laid-off are, of course, the non-EEC employees with work permits, instead of Austrians. See § 8 paragraph 2 of the AuslBG or Employment of Aliens Act.


This text is based on excerpts from the following articles:

Florina Platzer. "Das Neue Fremdenrecht aus feministischer Sicht." In Juridikum Zeitschrift im Rechtsstaat, Nr. 3, 2006

maiz Jahresbericht 2006 (maiz annual report 2006, available online:

Luzenir Caixeta and Elisabeth Cepek-Neuhauser. Die Normierung von Machtstrukturen im Diskurs der Integration und das Potential des Widerstandes. Eine kritische Darstellung aus der Perspektive von Frauen/Migrantinnen. Maiz 2008


ANAR (2007): Austrian Network Against Racism. Equality targets,, 10/01/2008
Duttweiler, Stefanie (2006): Unpublished text of a lecture held for the EMPICA course at maiz.
Sadjed, Ariane / Stöger, Marion / Praksh-Özer, Selin at maiz (Hg.) (2007): Handbuch zum Rahmencurriculum für Antirassistische Bildungsberatung. Eine Publikation erstellt im Rahmen des Projektes Empica / Equalpartnerschaft wip-work in process: Migrantische Selbstorganisation und Arbeit. Linz