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01 Apr 2024

Unlawful employment of third-country nationals in Austria

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Migration in the context of irregularity is a highly debated issue in the European Union. A new study conducted by the IOM Country Office for Austria in the framework of the European Migration Network addresses this important topic from the perspective of unlawful employment of third-country nationals in Austria in the period 2017–2023. The study provides an overview of risk areas and current trends. It also analyses measures to prevent and identify unlawful employment. The analysis shows that unlawful employment of third-country nationals in Austria poses a complex challenge. It is closely related to issues, such as labour market access, economic developments, the progress of digital technologies and labour exploitation.

In terms of the scope and groups of persons affected, the study shows that whereas previously unlawful employment involved mostly European Union citizens and only to a marginal extent third-country nationals, this trend has now reversed. Despite the same framework conditions and the same scope of control activities, the number and proportion of identified cases of suspected unlawful employment of third-country nationals has risen notably since 2017.

The study also highlights key challenges, such as the cross-border enforcement of penalties for employers, or the assertion of rights by affected migrants. Regarding the latter, Austrian law provides that foreign nationals have the same rights towards their employers, regardless of whether they have a valid employment contract. Moreover, unlawfully employed third-country nationals have access to the same scope of support services and have the same mechanisms to lodge complaints as Austrian workers, regardless of whether they are staying in Austria regularly or irregularly. However, as the study finds even if persons in precarious and/or unlawful employment know their rights, they tend not to assert them. Regarding this lack of assertions of rights, the study points out that while a foreign employee cannot be penalized for unlawful employment, as it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure the employment is lawful, there may be consequences under aliens’ law. Low barrier access to information, such as integrating information on rights into language courses for migrants, in turn is identified as an effective practice.

  • Summary 
  • 1 Introduction 
    • 1.1 Background 
    • 1.2 European Union context 
    • 1.3 Scope and definitions 
    • 1.4 Methodology 
  • 2 Overview of unlawful employment of third-country nationals
    • 2.1 Risk areas and company profiles 
    • 2.2 Trends and origins of unlawful employees 
    • 2.3 Unlawful and exploitative working conditions 
  • 3 Prevention and identification of unlawful employment 
    • 3.1 Policies and measures for prevention 
    • 3.2 Identification checks by the Financial Police 
    • 3.3 National and international cooperation 
    • 3.4 Challenges and good practices 
  • 4 Consequences for employers and third-country nationals 
    • 4.1 Sanctions for employers 
    • 4.2 Rights of third-country nationals 
    • 4.3 Consequences for third-country nationals 
    • 4.4 Challenges and good practices 
  • 5 Conclusions