The Recurring Problem of Work Permits for Third Countries

Article written by CARMEN WEISSENSTEIN

Tourism industry, Austria’s figurehead and lifeline, is complaining about an acute shortage of staff. Established staff left the industry during the corona pandemic and the next generation is a long time coming. Numerous chefs, waiters, and bartenders left their profession during the lockdowns and do not seem to be coming back. Workers from abroad also returned to their home countries and many hoteliers have run out of options on where to look for staff.    Nonetheless, the third country market is full of skilled hospitality workers, who are eager to come to Austria and broaden their horizons, both personally and professionally. Employers from the hospitality business have been trying for many years to bring key workers of the tourism industry from third countries into the country; however, the process of getting a work permit for non-EU workers is a Sisyphean task.

The first problem that arises in the acquisition of a work permit for third country residents regards the labor market situation. A work permit for a foreigner may only be issued if there are neither local workers nor foreign workers, who are currently registered at the Austrian job market and are willing and competent to practice the requested profession. This could be an issue since there are many Austrian residents registered at the Austrian job market, who are unwilling to work in the tourist areas because the latter are mostly not located in a close proximity to their residence. Due to this seeming availability of the local workforce, competent workers from non-EU countries are denied the opportunity of working in Austria.

The second problem is the duration of the work permit application and the work permit itself. The former can take up to 6 weeks, which might be an obstacle for seasonal establishments, which are not willing to wait that long. With regard to the duration of the work permit itself, the latter might pose a problem for non-seasonal establishments, which are open throughout the whole year. In other words, generally, the work permit is issued for a limited period of time, mostly for a period not longer than 6 months. The establishment can apply for the work permit after the first one has expired; however, there is no guarantee that the application will be granted the second time.

The third and last major problem is the quota of free spots or the number of work permits that can be issued annually. In 2020 and 2021, there was an annual average of 1263 available seasonal work permits for tourism, which could have been exceeded by up to 20 percent at peak times (i.e. a maximum of 1515 work permits). Be that as it may, these numbers are still too low given the enormous lack of at least 10 000 to 15 000 workers in the tourism industry.

In conclusion, due to the acute shortage of local workers and a slight retreat of workers from Eastern Europe, Austria is currently in great need for workers from third countries. Therefore, the government should act upon it and simplify and accelerate the entire process of work permit acquisition. In other words, the government should take necessary measures to counteract the vast shortage of staff in the tourism industry, where the demand for qualified workers is getting higher each year.

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