As part of our efforts to monitor access to the COVID-19 vaccines for undocumented migrants in Europe, we’re speaking with national-level advocates about the situation in their countries. This interview was conducted in September 2021 with a representative of Red Cross Austria to discuss the situation in Austria. It is not meant to offer an exhaustive picture of the legal and practical context in Austria. Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have information you’d like to share, and follow our Twitter page @PICUM_post to get more recent updates.
What does the Austrian vaccination strategy say about undocumented migrants?
The Austrian vaccination strategy doesn’t explicitly mention undocumented migrants. But government communications about the vaccinations, on their website, on social media and flyers, state that vaccinations are free of charge for any person residing in Austria, including people without Austrian social insurance.
How does one access the vaccines?
The procedures vary between regions. In general, though, you would need to book your vaccine either through an online platform or by phone. At the beginning of the vaccination campaign, these were necessary steps to access the vaccine. Now it’s possible to get vaccinated in certain vaccination points also without an appointment. In some regions, though, you’d still need to register on the online platform even if you’re not taking the appointment.
What information does one need to provide, when booking or registering for their vaccine?
Again, it can vary slightly from region to region, but in general you’re required to give your full name, date of birth and email address, sometimes a phone number. The social security number is not required, and indeed is an optional field to fill in in the online platform.
At the vaccination point, however, you’re generally required to show an identification document, which could even be a non-EU ID. If a person would like to get vaccinated and doesn’t have an ID, the alternative is to access civil society and other initiatives that provide vaccinations to undocumented and uninsured people in all regions.
Where can undocumented people go to get their shot?
Undocumented people can in principle access the same venues that are available to the general public, including mainstream vaccination centres, medical clinics and GPs offices. In practice, it is more likely that they would access “pop-up centres” which are temporary and can be set up in buses or shipping containers. There are also initiatives organised by civil society organisations, where the access threshold is very low.
We talked about the need to show an ID card at the vaccination point. Are there other barriers for undocumented people to access the vaccines?
There are a few, yes. First of all, the vaccination points are often set up in places that are outside larger cities and are hard to get to by public transport. And some of them are only temporary, which makes it difficult for undocumented people to locate or keep track of them.
Then there’s a language barrier. The online booking platform, for instance, is only in German. More generally, the government’s communications are often not translated into many languages, beyond Turkish and Balkan languages. As civil society organisations, we try to fill these gaps through our own campaigns.
What about the risk of immigration checks for undocumented people accessing the vaccine?
In Austria, we have a very clear and formal separation between health care services and immigration authorities. However, we can’t assess the real risk of immigration consequences for undocumented migrants, and we don’t know what impact this may have on people’s willingness to access public health care. Regardless of the actual risks, the fear over immigration consequences is definitely there among the undocumented community, and this could very well represent a barrier to their vaccination.
Let’s talk about the COVID-19 certificates. How does this play out for undocumented people?
People without social insurance, which includes undocumented people, wouldn’t be able to request and download an electronic certificate. But they can get a paper version directly at the vaccination point. This obviously has its own limitations, because the paper can be lost and can be easily damaged.
Beyond whatever form the certificate comes in, for instance whether paper or on your device, there’s the whole policing of the COVID-19 certificates that poses issues with regards to undocumented people. Virtually any kind of document check can foster fears of immigration consequences; this is all the more relevant considering that those who control the validity of the certificates can also ask for an ID document.
While we don’t necessarily expect waiters and restaurant owners to carry out ID checks, we are concerned about government plans to increase randomised certificate checks by police in public spaces, which definitely increases the risk of ID checks and ultimately immigration consequences.
Cover image: SASITHORN – Adobe Stock