The Integration Agreement in Austria
Persons who have legally settled in Austria should be integrated into Austrian society as quickly as possible. For this purpose, it is necessary both that integration support is offered and that the persons concerned actively participate in it. To this end, a system was created under the – misleading – term “Integration Agreement”, which is intended to ensure the acquisition of in-depth knowledge of the German language as well as of the democratic order and the basic principles that can be derived from it and prevail in Austria. However, this is not a measure in which persons immigrating to Austria can voluntarily participate, as the term “agreement” suggests, but rather an obligation that must be fulfilled in order to be granted or renew certain residence titles.
Following parents as an example
Oxana immigrated to Austria from Ukraine many years ago. In the meantime, she has already become an Austrian citizen and is also married to an Austrian. When Oxana and her husband, who are both employed, are expecting their first child, Oxana asks her mother from Ukraine to move in with her to Austria to help her look after the children. Oxana’s mother agrees and applies for a settlement permit “relative”, which gives her a temporary right of residence but no access to the labour market in Austria. Oxana’s mother has also completed a German course at the Goethe Institute in Kyiv before applying and can thus already prove basic knowledge of the German language at the A1 level of the European Framework of Reference.
Since she can also prove all other necessary requirements, Oxana’s mother is granted the applied-for settlement permit “relative”. Together with the issuance of the residence permit, however, she is informed that she is obliged to fulfil Module 1 of the Integration Agreement within 2 years. Should she fail to do so, her right of residence cannot be further extended after the expiry of these 2 years.
Module 1 of the Integration Agreement
There are a number of ways to fulfil Module 1 of the Integration Agreement. On the one hand, this can be done by passing certain examinations, namely by proving a successful integration examination at the Austrian Integration Fund (ÖIF) at language level A2 or by proving an integration examination at the A2 level of the “Verein Österreichisches Sprachdiplom Deutsch” (ÖSD). On the other hand, Module 1 of the Integration Agreement can also be fulfilled by providing evidence of a certain level of education. This is possible either by providing proof of a school-leaving qualification equivalent to the general university entrance qualification or by providing proof of graduation from a vocational secondary school (such as a Fachschule or Handelsschule). In addition, persons who have been granted a Red-White-Red Card are automatically deemed to have fulfilled Module 1 of the Integration Agreement. Finally, Module 1 of the Integration Agreement is also considered fulfilled if Module 2 has been successfully completed.
Module 2 of the Integration Agreement
In order to fulfil Module 2 of the Integration Agreement, language skills at the B1 level of the European Framework of Reference must be proven. Unlike Module 1, however, there is no obligation to fulfil Module 2 in order to renew an existing residence title. Fulfilment of Module 2 is, however, a necessary prerequisite for the granting of an “EU permanent residence title” or, subsequently, for the granting of Austrian citizenship.
Like Module 1, Module 2 can be fulfilled by taking appropriate integration examinations at B1 level at the ÖIF or the ÖSD. In addition, Module 2 is also deemed to be fulfilled if the person concerned is a minor and attends primary or secondary school in Austria (if attending secondary school, the subject “German” must have been positively completed in the last school year), or by providing proof of a degree in the subject “German” at a foreign secondary school (whereby the lessons must have been attended for at least 4 years), or by providing proof of an apprenticeship-leave exam in Austria, or by providing proof of completion of at least 32 ECTS within the framework of a postsecondary study programme in Austria that was held in German.
Exception for health reasons
Oxana’s mother has been staying in Austria continuously for almost two years due to her settlement permit for “relatives”. However, she has not yet managed to fulfil Module 1 of the Integration Agreement. On the one hand, she is busy looking after her grandchildren and, on the other hand, suffers from great exam anxiety. Is it still possible for Oxana’s mother to have her residence permit extended after two years, even if she cannot prove that she has fulfilled Module 1 of the Integration Agreement?
Persons who cannot be expected to fulfil Module 1 of the Integration Agreement due to their mental or physical state of health are exempt from this. This must be confirmed by a medical certificate from a public health officer. Oxana’s mother, however, has doubts as to whether her fear of exams is actually recognised as such a serious psychological limitation that it is actually confirmed as an exceptional reason by a public health officer.
Extension of the obligation to fulfil
Oxana’s mother also has the option of applying for an extension of the obligation to fulfil Module 1 of the Integration Agreement for up to 12 months. When deciding on such an application for an extension, the authorities must take into account the concrete circumstances of the third-country national’s life. In this context, Oxana’s mother’s multiple burdens with childcare and exam anxiety may very well play an important role. Even if Oxana’s mother cannot avoid the obligation to fulfil Module 1 of the Integration Agreement, she can gain up to one year’s time to take the required examination by applying for an extension of the obligation to fulfil.