Integration secretary plans home visit initiative

Social workers will visit badly integrated foreigners at home to help them learning German, People’s Party (ÖVP) Integration Secretary Sebastian Kurz announced yesterday (Tues).

Kurz said his office planned to expand a successful Viennese pilot project concept based on programmes in Switzerland and Australia to several other Austrian towns and cities in the coming months. The project has a budget of 300,000 Euros, according to Austria’s first state secretary for integration who was sworn in around one year ago.

Kurz explained the plan was to send out social workers with migratory backgrounds to chat to immigrants in parks and on the street. A special focus would be set on mothers with poor knowledge of the German language and their kids, he said. According to Kurz, the teams of social workers would also meet with the immigrants at home to provide them with learning materials. Kurz said both, parent and child could benefit from the cooperation.

The new project’s target is to improve people’s integration by raising their German skills. Kurz said he was convinced of the concept since it would concentrate on children of pre-school age. This strategy might be of help in accelerating kids’ integration in kindergarten groups and school classes, the state secretary said.

The new initiative by Kurz – whose office is part of the interior ministry – received acclaim by the Greens. The left-wing opposition party, which is often highly critical of the integration policies of the government coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and ÖVP, said the project might lead into the right direction. Greens integration spokeswoman Alev Korun said she welcomed the state secretary’s decision to turn a concept she discussed with him some months ago into reality.

Korun called on Kurz to adapt the ÖVP’s immigration agenda. She said that a slogan like “integration through achievement” was misleading and unfair. Korun said the government must try to break down the various barriers foreigners were still confronted with on the Austrian job market and as far as bureaucratic issues were regarded. She said the interior ministry must no longer deport well-integrated people.

Statistics show that more than 40 per cent of foreigners living in Austria had been unemployed at least once in the past 10 years. The number of foreign job seekers rose by 11.8 per cent from March 2011 to the same month of this year while the overall jobless rate edged up by just 4.4 per cent. Almost 12 per cent of the 1.5 million people with migratory background residing in Austria are out of work at the moment.

Austria has the lowest unemployment rate in the European Union (EU) at 4.2 per cent. Austria does second-best in combating youth unemployment. Germany tops the EU ranking in this concern with a rate of 8.2 per cent. Around 8.3 per cent of Austrians younger than 25 are unemployed.

SPÖ Labour Minister Rudolf Hundstorfer the integration secretary’s suggestion to set up a labour market task force to clarify why so many immigrants have no job. Hundstorfer said his ministry and the Austrian Labour Market Service (AMS) were already closely cooperating with the Economy Chamber (WKO) and other organisations representing the economy to reduce the number of jobless foreigners and Austrians with a migratory background.