Austria on Wednesday finalised the details of welfare cuts aimed at immigrants, in a move criticised by anti-poverty campaigners and church groups.
Immigrants whose German-language skills are not up to scratch will see their benefit payments cut under the plan, agreed by the ruling centre-right People’s Party (OeVP) and far-right Freedom Party (FPOe).
Rules will also be tightened for people judged to be unwilling to work.
In last year’s election campaigns, both parties promised to get tough on illegal immigration while cutting taxes and bureaucracy and in December they agreed to share power.
According to their new plan, the minimum monthly payment will be set at 863 euros ($974). For asylum seekers with poor German or English however, that will be cut to 563 euros.
FPOe Social Affairs Minister Beate Hartinger-Klein summed up the aims of the new measures: “First, fairness for Austrians. Foreigners must wait. This is of clear benefit to our citizens.”
But critics of the government’s plans expressed concern that the cuts will push children in particular into poverty.
The anti-poverty network, the Armutskonferenz, said that “instead of turning people into beggars, the laws need to be changed so that they fight poverty and don’t make people poorer.”
And the head of the church charity Caritas, Michael Landau, posted on Facebook: "If the government reforms the minimum allowance, my call and request is that child and old-age poverty is not allowed to increase in Austria.
“We have to fight poverty, not people affected by poverty.”
Critics also hit out at the fact that the reforms focused on the migration background of those receiving benefits.
The FPOe has argued that migrants who had never worked in Austria or paid into the social system should not be entitled to the same level of benefits as Austrians.
However, in a ruling last week on a specific case in the province of Upper Austria, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) said refugees were entitled to social benefits under the same conditions as nationals, irrespective of the duration of validity of their residence permit.
The government hopes that the language requirement in the new measures will avoid any claims that it is discriminatory.
The reform proposals will now have to be put to parliament in February and March before they can legally come into effect starting from April 1.