Many paths lead most Metropolitans to this peaceful Danube valley: Love, work, studies or some messy, human combination thereof. But it isn’t all wine hikes and Riesenräder. Most adults need to earn a living, which means a visa and a work permit – not to mention an apartment, a school for the kids, pet vaccinations and gnarly tax requirements. It can be a daunting administrative parcours. Enter Vienna’s new Business Immigration Office (BIO), set up to bring expat consulting and the actual permit application process under one roof.
“The Business Immigration Office is a cooperation that is very unique because we bring together two public authorities – the MA 35 and City of Vienna as the authority for residency and citizenship law and the AMS (Arbeitsmarktservice) for foreign employment law – and us at the Vienna Business Agency (VBA), which has a lot of experience and compentency in consulting,” explains Friedrich Bruckner, a consultant from the VBA working at the BIO in Vienna’s 1st District.
Since 2010, Bruckner has advised newcomers at the VBA, which consults startups and businesses and, through its Expat Center, helps individuals with resettlement advice. Bruckner is now part of the new BIO team, composed of three VBA consultants and 24 officials from MA 35 who work closely with the AMS. “I like to say we are three components of one team working toward one goal together.”
Streamlining complicated processes
Vienna attracts thousands of new residents each year, and is the sixth-largest city in the European Union, behind Berlin, Madrid, Rome, Paris and Bucharest, which are in much larger countries. For all the anti-refugee and anti-immigrant rhetoric from some quarters, the City of Vienna is different, and is working to attract key workers. “Vienna is an important international business location. The number of people from all over the world coming to take up employment and highly qualified jobs is rising year to year,“ Bruckner explained.
Previously, would-be WienerInnen had to chart their own paths through the bureaucracy. For many, speed and complexity can be sticking points (submit documents, wait, find out those were the wrong documents, repeat). Those without German skills may struggle to understand requirements and complete forms.
Applicants get a one-stop-shop, and officials behind the scenes can exchange notes more easily.
“The blame for needlessly long waiting periods, usually placed on MA35, [actually] lies with an increasingly complex migration law and a laborious application process,” deputy mayor Christoph Wiederkehr was quoted as saying in March. He and others called for legal reforms and increased, diversified recruitment at MA 35. In August, a mini-scandal broke when a MA 35 official admitted that staff were so overwhelmed that they would ignore phone calls.
BIO, in the works for years, is part of the solution. Inspired by a similar office in Berlin, the office should streamline both the front and back ends: Applicants can get residency, work permit and resettlement advice at a one-stop-shop, and officials behind the scenes can exchange notes more easily. “We’ve always had good cooperation from the Expat Center with the other authorities, but we weren’t sitting next to each other – we had to call someone, to send an email. Now we have colleagues from MA 35 sitting in the next room and these communication methods are faster.“ Bruckner notes that his MA 35 colleagues certainly do answer the phones – and can often be found working late into the evening on their cases.
A cultural shift
For applicants, getting paperwork together can be intimidating (apostille, anyone?), so advice in your native language can feel like a lifeline. While MA 35 officials usually work in German, consultants at BIO speak several languages, among them English, Hungarian, Urdu and Hindi – and can pull in additional language support from colleagues at the Vienna Business Agency. Though they are not a translation service, they can explain to clients exactly which documents they need.
BIO served over 250 clients in its first two months of operation, and are expecting between 1800 and 2000 per year. Satisfied customers include Simon Tretter, CEO and CTO of Hokify, a mobile job application platform that lets users fill in a single profile and apply to multiple jobs. The company is always looking for developers, and foreign workers often have the chops they need, Tretter told METROPOLE.
Working with BIO to bring in a Peruvian team member, he said, “was really a very smooth process in total.” “The VBA gave us some great hints about which documents were needed for the specific visa, helped us calculate the points required, what documents we need and what kinds of verification.”
Friends from the startup community had warned Tretter that the process would be “super frustrating”. He said: “It’s still very funny. When I talk to other startups about how this went so smoothly, they usually don’t believe me – but for me, it was actually quite easy.”
Stefan Yazzie, founder and CEO of House of Bandits, a creative agency and co-working space, is among those with a historically terrible visa experience, albeit in Lower Austria. Getting a Red-White-Red Card for one employee was, he said, “insane.” His team even considered suing the government. “There is a maximum amount of time that they are supposed to process the application in, but they just blew past it without any notification.” He hadn’t heard of the Business Immigration Office yet, but said it made sense because hiring foreigners makes sense. “I see diversity as a strength, not a weakness. Our refugee program [to help people become founders –ed.] was for well-educated people. It only makes sense to take advantage of every skilled individual you can who is willing to get a job. If you’re open to foreigners, you will get a lot of high talent.”
“I know the move can be complicated, it involves a lot of stress, so I always hope that once people have arrived, they really feel welcome here.”Friedrich Bruckner, Consultant at the Business Immigration Office
The cultural shift that the Business Immigration Office represents “is not to be underestimated,” Bruckner told METROPOLE. “It’s the first time that a public authority with decision-taking power really comes under one roof with a business-oriented consulting organization like ours.” For Bruckner, it’s all about making foreign workers feel welcome. He uses the word a lot. “A very warm welcome, that’s the most important thing. I start my consulting sessions by really welcoming people. I know the move can be complicated, it involves a lot of stress and I always hope that once people have arrived, they really feel welcome here.”
Who can get help at the Business Immigration Office?
The Business Immigration Office serves both companies hiring foreigners and individuals applying for residency and job permits.
- First time applications only
- All forms of the Red-White-Red Card. “Not just highly qualified managers but also people working in shortage occupations,” Bruckner said.
- Blue Card applications
- Residency permits for researchers
- Special cases of non-self-employment, “for example for foreign media correspondents or the non-diplomatic staff of international organizations and their family members,” as Bruckner said.
- Those who held a student residency permit and have now received a job offer in Austria.
This does not include:
- Applications for student visas
- Applications for people joining Austrian citizens as family members (Familienangehörige)
- Residency extensions. These continue to be handled in the Außenstelle (branch offices) of the MA 35.
Appointments can be made via a link on this site, or by using the contact information below:
Business Immigration Office / Vienna Business Agency
Zelinkagasse 9, 1010 Wien
+43 1 25200 644
Expat Center of the Vienna Business Agency
The Expat Center of the Vienna Business Agency, separately from BIO, “offers free advice and consulting on matters of daily expat life in Vienna. Expats receive advice on all questions about arriving, settling and staying in Vienna – in all phases of your life, be it a planned job change, starting a family, importing your car, changing school or retirement.”