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VISAS

COMPARED: Germany’s Chancenkarte vs. Austria’s Red-White-Red card for skilled non-EU workers

In their race to recruit expert workers, Germany and Austria have recently announced overhauls to the visas skilled non-EU citizens can get. Germany’s Chancenkarte or 'opportunity card' and Austria’s 'Red-White-Red' card both aim to make it easier for skilled non-EU workers to take up jobs in the two countries. But how do they compare?

Is it possible to get a working holiday visa in Switzerland? Photo by ConvertKit on Unsplash
One reader recommends mapping out which visa to apply for and when, before you ever arrive. Photo by ConvertKit on Unsplash

The skills shortages in Germany and Austria have become recent and urgent priorities for both governments. At least 124,000 jobs need filling in Austria and the government estimates the actual need could be double that number. Germany’s Labour Ministry estimates it currently needs to recruit around 400,000 foreign workers a year – just to keep up.

As two German-speaking countries, Germany and Austria are competing for a lot of the same skilled talent. So aside from the other aspects of living in either country – which one is offering a better visa regime?

Here, it depends a lot on your situation and priorities. As an example, each country’s EU Blue Card scheme works a little bit differently. Germany’s generally requires a higher minimum salary than Austria’s. But Germany’s also makes getting permanent residence later a little bit easier – so potential applicants have to consider some trade-offs.

READ ALSO: Germany or Austria: Where is it easier to get an EU Blue Card?

The new German Chancenkarte, or ‘opportunity card’ – how it’s set to make looking for work in Germany easier

For those who aren’t necessarily eligible for an EU Blue Card in Germany or Austria, other types of work or jobseeker visas exist.

Foreign specialists looking for a job in Germany typically need a job offer related to their professional qualification, and the German employment agency must approve the job offer. Applicants older than 45 must also have an annual salary of at least €46,530 (2023 values) – if they are coming to Germany for the first time. Even this minimum salary is lower than the threshold needed for an EU Blue Card in Germany.

But what if you don’t have a formal job offer?

The current traffic light government of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens, and liberal Free Democrats (FDP) wants skilled people to also be able to come to Germany to look for work. The Chancenkarte – set to pass the Bundestag in the next few months – is designed to help non-EU nationals do this on a points basis.

German Bundestag

The German Bundestag is set to pass the new “opportunity card” or Chancenkarte – in the next few months, allowing some skilled workers to come to Germany to look for work even without a job offer. Photo: Felix Mittermeier/Pixabay

To be eligible for it, applicants have to broadly fulfill three out of these four conditions – meaning that applicants could still be considered for the Chancenkarte if they don’t have a formal job offer and are still missing one of these:

  • A university degree or professional qualification
  • Professional experience of at least three years
  • German language skills or previous residence in Germany (higher language skills give more points)
  • Under 35 years-old

The Chancenkarte thus differs from the current jobseeker visa, which lets people come to Germany to look for work if they have:

  • a qualification recognised in Germany and a practice permit for a regulated profession
  • proof a German language skills (typically to B1 level)
  • proof of ability to pay living costs

Designed to be more flexible, in the right circumstances, a future Chancenkarte holder could end up including a young person who has no university degree but both language skills and work experience. The German employer may be able to then hire this person, if they can work out a plan that allows the employee to upgrade their qualifications accordingly for the German job market.

Other future Chancenkarte holders might also include someone who doesn’t yet speak German but who is young with both a university degree and job experience, or a recent graduate with no experience but has appropriate language skills.

The government is looking to give Chancenkarte holders the ability to look for a job in Germany for one year. That’s longer than the current jobseeker visa’s six-month term. Holders are also allowed to engage in part-time or trial employment, allowing the employer to get to know the potential employee before hiring them on full-time.

READ ALSO: How to apply for Germany’s new ‘opportunity card’ and other visas for job seekers

Austria’s “Red-White-Red” card – the advantages for certain professions

Because Germany’s Chancenkarte is still in the draft law phase – even if expected to be approved soon – we know a lot more about the specifics of Austria’s Red-White-Red card.

Firstly, Germany’s Chancenkarte is designed for flexibility and is intended to allow potential skilled workers to come to the country even if they don’t have a job offer. By contrast, most applicants for an Austrian Red-White-Red card must have a job offer. Austria’s Red-White-Red card is also more specifically targeted, maintaining different points schemes for different types of skilled workers. 

Furthermore, Austria’s point system for the Red-White-Red card gives additional advantages to graduates in STEM subjects like math, engineering, natural sciences or technology – if they are applying under the “Very Highly Qualified Workers” scheme of the Red-White-Red card.

At the same time, a Red-White-Red applicant in a “shortage occupation,” may find it slightly easier than other applicants to get enough points to qualify for a Red-White-Red card. Shortage occupations include many types of experts who will have had a high level of academic advanced education – like engineers or physicians. But many shortage occupations in Austria also include skilled workers with vocational training, such as roofers, masseuses, bakers, and carpenters. Some shortage occupations are Austria-wide, while others are region-specific. You can find the full list at the available links.

Most non-EU applicants for Austria’s points-based Red-White-Red card will need to secure a job offer before getting the card, unlike with Germany’s planned Chancenkarte. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Certain “Other Key Workers” may also be able to apply for a Red-White-Red card, provided they have enough points, no equally qualified registered jobseeker at the Public Employment Service can be placed, and they are paid a minimum monthly salary of €2,925. Certain seasonal workers can also apply if they’ve worked for at least seven months of the last two years in that occupation and have at least A2 level German. These people also need job offers.

The only potential Red-White-Red applicants who don’t need job offers are self-employed key workers and start-up founders. Both of these applicants though, need to prove a minimum level of capital, amongst other requirements.

Successful applicants for a Red-White-Red card may then work in Austria for up to two years, at which point they may apply to extend their work permission through a Red-White-Red Plus card, which gives the holder unlimited access to the Austrian labour market that isn’t bound to any specific employer.

READ ALSO: How Austria is making it easier for non-EU workers to get residence permits

German – and English – language skills: How the Chancenkarte and Red-White-Red value languages

The other big difference between the German Chancenkarte and the Austrian Red-White-Red revolves around the points awarded for German or English skills.

In general, Austria’s Red-White-Red tends to require a lower level of German language skills in order to achieve points in an applicant’s favour. For example, applicants in shortage occupations will get five points for the most basic level of German – A1. That increases to 10 points for A2 and 15 points for B1 – to a maximum possible 15 points from German language skills.

By contrast, the current draft plans for the German Chancenkarte would require an applicant to have C1 German – the second-highest possible level – to get maximum points under language skills. Even B2 German – an upper intermediate level where speakers can begin to make advanced arguments – only yields a Chancenkarte hopeful partial points.

A German for Dummies language book sits atop a desk next to a pen and a cup of coffee. Photo by Jan Antonin Kolar on Unsplash

Getting points for language skills is generally easier under Austria’s Red-White-Red card system than Germany’s proposed Chancenkarte. Photo by Jan Antonin Kolar on Unsplash

Furthermore, Austria places English language skills on a mostly equal footing with German language skills – with basic A1 English being enough to get some workers partial points under the Austrian Red-White-Red scheme. A skilled worker looking to apply under Red-White-Red who can speak both English and German at a B1 level would already achieve the maximum number of points an applicant can get from languages under the Austrian Red-White-Red system.

By comparison, the German government has not announced plans to give out points under the Chancenkarte system specifically for English language skills, even if some applicants will be able to get enough points to get one even without speaking German at a high level. We should stress though, that the German Chancenkarte legislation is still in the draft phase and could change in some ways before it’s passed.

Flexibility and language trade-offs

The German Chancenkarte may ultimately end up being a more flexible option for skilled workers who want to come to Germany first before they commit to any one particular employer. It may also end up being more favourable for people who don’t come from the shortage professions that Austria is specifically targeting, for example. By contrast, getting a Red-White-Red card in Austria almost always requires a specific job offer.

Yet some applicants who snag a job offer may find it easier to qualify for Austria’s Red-White-Red card if they have a lower level of German language skills – particularly if they can speak English – which Austria’s points system values in a way that Germany isn’t considering.

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WORKING IN AUSTRIA

What is Austria doing to keep track of the worker shortage?

Austria's labour shortage, particularly of skilled workers, affects almost every sector of the market. Now, the government wants to know exactly how bad the situation is.

What is Austria doing to keep track of the worker shortage?

The Austrian Ministry of Labour and Economic Affairs, in collaboration with the Labour Market Service (AMS), has unveiled the “BMAW AMS Skilled Workers Barometer” to improve the monitoring of labour shortages.

This quarterly index will provide timely information on the scarcity of skilled workers at the professional level in Austria and, in the future, for each individual province. Furthermore, it will be made public to allow the population to identify industries with a high number of vacancies.

What exactly is the ‘barometer’

The barometer is an index number calculated based on three sub-indicators: job placement (calculated by dividing the number of unemployed by the number of vacancies), access to vacancies (measuring the number of accesses and the relative change in access to vacancies), and the overall job market (counting the number and relative change of accesses to job advertisements).

​​READ ALSO: The ‘easiest’ entry jobs in Austria to get if you don’t speak German

During a press conference on Tuesday, June 6th, Martin Kocher, the Minister of Labour and Economic Affairs from the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), expressed confidence that the skilled worker barometer would help recognise labour market developments earlier and enable faster reactions to these changes. 

“The advantage of the new skilled worker barometer is not only to take as a basis those positions that are reported to the AMS, but also to be able to react more quickly to changes in demand,” said Johannes Kopf, the head of AMS.

However, he didn’t specify which reactions the government would take. 

Where is there a lack of workers?

According to domestic companies, there were 228,300 job openings in the first quarter of 2023, which is practically the same number as the previous year when there were 227,700 unfilled positions.

Of the current job vacancies, 134,700 can be attributed to the service sector, 61,100 to the manufacturing sector, and 32,500 to the public sector. Only 118,100 of these vacancies were reported to AMS by companies, as stated by Statistics Austria.

READ ALSO: Why job sectors in Austria are short of workers

One of the worst-affected sectors is construction, where 76 percent of companies report a shortage of skilled labour, as The Local has reported.

Both tourism and engineering also report a particularly acute shortage of workers, although nearly all sectors are struggling.

Regionally, the shortage is most pronounced in Carinthia, where 73 percent of companies report needing staff. This compares with about 67 percent in Upper Austria and only 20 percent in Vorarlberg.

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