VIENNA - Austria’s conservative interior minister rejected a proposal for more unified asylum rules in the European Union under which all member countries would grant asylum seekers the right to work, according to a newspaper interview published on Thursday.
Austria took in 90,000 asylum seekers during the influx of migrants to Europe last year, but has since capped its intake and imposed border controls. Currently asylum applicants are allowed to work in community jobs.
But the proposal made by the European Commission on Wednesday would include a rule allowing refugees and migrants to obtain work permits six months after making their asylum application.
“I consider it unthinkable to issue working permits for asylum seekers,” Wolfgang Sobotka told German daily Die Welt. “It would be a call to people in crisis-ridden countries to come to Austria. Our job market would not be able to absorb that.”
Anti-immigration sentiment among Austrians has risen as result of the migrant crisis, the biggest to affect Europe since WW2, and helped swell support for the far-right Freedom Party.
The government, a coalition between the Social Democrats and center-right People’s Party (OVP) of which Sobotka is a member, is divided on immigration, with the OVP taking a harder line.
A spokesman for Chancellor Christian Kern, a Social Democrat, said on Thursday that Kern supported the idea of asylum applicants getting legal work faster, without elaborating.
This contrasted with Sobotka’s stance, who said all EU countries should apply the principle that asylum seekers should not be allowed to work.
“Different regulations are not good in this matter and send a wrong signal to the refugees’ countries of origin,” he was cited as saying.
Austria introduced a cap of 37,500 asylum claims for this year and cooperated with its Balkan neighbors in the closure of the main migrant route.
Sobotka and Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil agreed to support Hungary in securing its Schengen border and were in Budapest on Wednesday to discuss further measures.
(This story has been refiled to add name of newspaper in fourth paragraph)
Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky