- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 26, 2003

VIENNA, Austria Foreign workers and their families are being compelled to learn the number of brass bands in Carinthia and the name of the governor of Tyrol as a condition of taking up jobs in Austria.
Under a law that took effect this month, anyone from outside the European Union must pass an exam on Austrian customs and traditions, and take an intensive course in German to qualify for a resident's visa.
The legislation was introduced last year by the government, then led by the anti-immigration Freedom Party, whose former head is Jorg Haider. The government that has replaced it intends to keep the law. Schools offering the courses have been flooded with applications, but critics say the law will be a disaster for Austria, especially the capital, Vienna, which has tried to build an image as the gateway to Europe.
Tom Davenport, an American who has lived in Austria for two years and recently applied to extend his visa, said he was shocked when he was told he needed to go back to school.
"The new law is not only ridiculous, but insulting," he said. "I am a businessman, and a benefit to Austria and its economy. I should not be made to feel like a parasite for working here. Most of my business is conducted in English, and although I am not opposed to learning German in my own time, I do not appreciate being forced to find that time."
Nicolas Duke, the British area manager for a leading medical equipment supplier in Vienna, said the new law is absurd. He added, "If Vienna wants to be a center for corporations as well as providing access to the newly emerging markets in Europe, then there should be an easing of residence legalities.
"Much business is done in Vienna between America and the East European countries, but the people carrying out that business have no time to learn German, no need to speak it and no wish to be forced back to school."
Thomas Hainlen, the American chief of personnel with IBM, said: "People who work here in our Vienna headquarters speak only English at work. Our staff have no time to learn German; we have no need for it. The law is a waste of time."
The government has described the new rules as a way of forcing foreigners to integrate into German-speaking Austria. The Interior Ministry believes the act to be a "true accomplishment in the integration of foreigners."
But Karl Oellinger, a Green member of Parliament and fierce opponent of the law, said: "The Freedom Party may have had in mind East European and African immigrants to meet their racist agenda, but the legislation also applies to Americans, Australians and Canadians as well as all other non-EU foreigners." Each of the new courses lasts for about 100 hours and is taught by certified public institutions at a cost of about $385. The classes are compulsory for non-EU citizens who arrived in Austria after Jan. 1, 1998. Students can get a 50 percent refund if they complete the course within 18 months.
Immigrants who do not pass get warnings from the immigration police, and after three years are fined a minimum $100. This amount increases to a minimum of $200 after four years, after which Austria also has the right to expel them.
Alexander Janda, head of the Fund for the Integration of Refugees, which is financed by the Austrian Interior Ministry and is organizing the new rules, said: "We only expect course participants to grasp a basic understanding of the German language and of Austrian culture. Progress is checked by continuous assessment and multiple-choice" tests.
Thomas Goelling, who leads an integration class in Vienna, said: "There are a lot of culture shocks here. For example, Americans can't get to grips with the fact that the shops are closed most of the weekend and on bank holidays, and that supermarkets are not open in the evening.
"British people get furious about the fact Austrians will not stand in a queue, and everyone hates the bureaucracy here but it's part of our way of life. We explain why these things are the way they are. Even the bureaucracy has a point. It's a way of ensuring that everyone has a job."

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