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What are our neighbours up to?

Professional recognition in Austria and Switzerland: a quick look over the border shows how recognition works in our neighbouring countries and what we can learn from each other.

Recognition in Austria

Norbert Bichl works in the coordination office of the contact points for people with qualifications gained abroad. These contact points are known as AST and exist across Austria. In the interview he explains how professional recognition functions in our neighbouring country of Austria. 

In Austria, people with a foreign qualification also have the right to a recognition procedure. Can you describe the general principle?

Norbert Bichl: In Austria, formal recognition is required to practice regulated professions such as general nurse and teacher. For a non-regulated profession, there is the opportunity to have academic and school-based qualifications assessed by the Federal Ministry of Education. A specialist, for example a mechanic from India, does not need formal recognition. If they can find a company to appoint them as a skilled worker, then they can practice the profession without recognition. However, skilled workers from third countries always require a so-called red-white-red card for immigration to Austria. This gives them the right to settle here for 24 months and to take up employment with a specified company. 

How does the recognition procedure work? What are the steps involved?

Norbert Bichl: The steps in the recognition procedure are similar to those in Germany. First of all we look at the qualifications which the person in question has brought with them. We can also support them financially, for example by covering the cost of translating a diploma. We then check whether a regulated profession is involved or not. In the majority of cases the profession is not regulated. These individuals are then advised to have their qualification assessed and are also supported when applying. This is generally done online.

In the case of regulated professions, a clear distinction is made between qualifications from third countries and those from the EU. The latter are processed by an authority from the healthcare sector in accordance with the EU Directive on the Recognition of Professional Qualifications. On the other hand, if it is a qualification from a third country, the syllabuses and degree course schemes are compared with one another. For this, there are a range of different authorities to contact at both national and federal state level. 

What can Austria and Germany learn from each other?

Norbert Bichl: Norbert Bichl: In Germany, the Recognition Act provides a standardised framework for the recognition procedure. Austria doesn’t have this. While a Recognition and Assessment Act has been in place since 2016, this does not regulate the recognition procedure. It would therefore be helpful if we were to also standardize this. In the regulated sector, we could then align ourselves more closely with the German system by checking, for example, whether a professional qualification is in principle equivalent and whether the person is able to practise this profession in Austria. We could then appeal to skilled workers in a more targeted manner. Instead, here in Austria, the recognition procedure is heavily focused on comparing syllabuses and degree course schemes. Professional experience is hardly considered. Germany, on the other hand, could take a more pragmatic approach on the subject of skilled workers. Without recognition procedures, it would be easier for German companies to appoint foreign skilled workers to non-regulated professions. 

The interview with Norbert Bichl took place in January 2023.

Contact and information

Advisory Centre for Migrants 
Coordination office – contact points for people with qualifications gained abroad (AST)

Norbert Bichl

AST: Recognition contact point

Professional recognition in Austria

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Norbert Bichl

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Recognition in Switzerland

In Switzerland, recognition of foreign professional qualifications is also only required for regulated professions. However, the regulation differs depending on the canton. 

There is not only demand for skilled workers in Germany. Switzerland is also seeking to cover its demand for skilled workers with people from abroad, among other methods. The country is therefore part of the EU system for the recognition of foreign professional qualifications. 

Eight offices in Switzerland are responsible for recognition. One of these is the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI). People contact this office if, for example, they have a professional qualification in architecture and structural engineering, in social welfare, in early years education or in vocational school teaching. The SERI is also the national contact service for the recognition of foreign professional qualifications and therefore the first contact partner for issues relating to recognition.

What’s the procedure if you want to have your professional qualification recognised in Switzerland? Sandra Schindler, the head of the national contact service, offers some advice on this. “Firstly, those seeking advice need to ask themselves where they want to practice their profession. This is because, on the one hand, recognition is only required for regulated professions, and on the other, Switzerland has four national languages. The requirements for practising a profession may also differ depending on the canton.” The following example illustrates this. In the French-speaking cantons and in the Italian-speaking canton of Tessin, the profession of architect is regulated, while in other cantons the profession can be practised without recognition. “For many professions, the basis of the regulation is cantonal law, in particular in engineering, in the education and social welfare sectors, and in some cases also in the healthcare sector. However, there are also some professions which are regulated by federal law, for example in the area of electrical installation and in the case of risky sports activities. The proportion of regulated professions therefore varies from canton to canton,” explains Sandra Schindler.

Many professions are not regulated which means skilled workers are able to work in Switzerland straight away with their foreign professional qualification. If it's a regulated profession, the “request for recognition” is submitted digitally. Once all documents have been submitted to the recognition office, the office checks the equivalence of the foreign professional qualification. 

Sandra Schindler would like more digitalisation so that the recognition process for skilled workers is even simpler and quicker in future. “We could accelerate the procedure by not always first requiring proof of qualifications to be notarised. Instead, professional qualifications could be stored online in registers in the country of origin and, for example, could be made accessible via QR code. Providing proof of the diploma could therefore be made paperless.” “Anerkennung in Deutschland” serves as a benchmark in terms of dissemination of information. “We are also currently creating a portal like this in Switzerland. This will create greater capacity for advising on more complex cases.” 

The interview with Sandra Schindler took place in December 2022. She is head of the national contact service for the recognition of professional qualifications in the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation in Switzerland.

Contact and information

State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI)

Sandra Schindler

SBFI: Recognition of foreign diplomas

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Sandra Schindler

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