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Forgotten key workers: policy narratives in migrant live-in care

Project status
Michael Leiblfinger
Institution web page
Host institution
Johannes Kepler University Linz (AT)
Team members
Michael Leiblfinger, Veronika Prieler
Funding information (if funded)
Michael Leiblfinger and Veronika Prieler are part of the trinational research project Decent Care Work? Transnational Home Care Arrangements ( with the Austrian part funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF I 3145 G-29) and chaired by Brigitte Aulenbacher.
Project Summary

Over the last few decades, live-in care has become an important pillar of long-term care regimes in familialistic countries like Austria. Commuting live-in care workers, typically women from Central and Eastern Europe, help fill the care gaps resulting from a decline in familial care. Closed borders and other pandemic-related restrictions brought the circulation of care workers, whose rotas typically range from two to four weeks, to a halt. The government scrambled and narratives of an endangered live-in care model and of the ‘systematic importance’ of its carers brought upon a variety of policy responses: to foster care workers’ extension of rotas, a federally funded, tax-free bonus was implemented for live-in carers prolonging their stays for at least four weeks. Additionally, the government initiated negotiations with neighbouring countries in hopes of creating ‘care corridors’ for the suddenly essential live-in care workers. Charter flights and special trains were organised to ensure the supply of live-in carers until borders re-opened. These measures along with the government’s announcement to provide 100 million euros to the social care sector – including live-in care, which received considerable media attention – show the pressure policy actors faced.
The project analyses how live-in care was affected by the pandemic and how related policy responses were shaped by powerful narratives. It asks how different actors including local and federal governments, interest groups, and grassroots organisations interpreted the pandemic-related challenges for live-in care, what problems they defined and how they proposed to solve them, and whose demands they addressed. Preliminary results indicate that while live-in carers were deemed key workers and essential for the long-term care system, the responses deepened the inequalities and dependencies already existing in transnational care arrangements. This links to the structural inequalities and power imbalances that mark live-in care in general. Empirically, the project draws on a media analyses of live-in care in Austria from March 2020 to February 2021. This dataset of over 500 reports is supplemented by governmental documents, relevant laws, and official guidelines as well as six interviews with policy actors in the field. The analyses will shed insights into the narrative of the ‘systematic importance’ of live-in care and its workers and how policy choices were argued and / or defended, focusing on the roles various actors took on in their own or other’s narration.

Outputs / Expected Outputs

Currently, a paper and presentations:

Forgotten key workers: Why migrant domestic carers deserve greater support. Post on the EUROPP – European Politics and Policy blog  run by the London School of Economics and Political Science


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Forgotten key workers: policy narratives in migrant live-in care