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Austrians with Turkish roots fear being stripped of nationality

Alper Yilmaz has no doubt where his home is. "My homeland is Austria, Vienna," he says.

Austrians with Turkish roots fear being stripped of nationality
Alper Yilmaz poses with his Austrian passport at his cafe restaurant in Vienna. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

But with a far-right party sharing power and anti-immigration sentiment generally on the rise in Austria, Yilmaz — along with potentially thousands of other Austrians with Turkish roots — is worried he could be stripped of his citizenship.

Except in very special cases, Austria does not allow its citizens to hold dual nationality. 

But the far-right and anti-Islam Freedom Party (FPÖ) — junior partner in a ruling coalition with the centre-right Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) — last year claimed to have received a list of Turkish voters which it said could contain tens of thousands of illegal dual nationals.

The affair drew comparisons to Britain's “Windrush” scandal, in which scores of British citizens of Caribbean origin were deported or detained because they had not collected the necessary paperwork proving their right be there.

Now many of the Austrians of Turkish origin whose names appear on the list could face a similar administrative nightmare.

Duygu Ozkan, a journalist for the Die Presse newspaper, said the dual nationality issue had become “virtually the only topic of conversation” for Austria's Turkish community. 

Austria, like neighbouring Germany, invited thousands of Turkish citizens to come and work in the 1960s and 1970s, with many staying and putting down roots.

Turkish immigrants and their descendants now number around 270,000 out of the population of 8.7 million. 

One of them is Cigdem Schiller, born in Austria 31 years ago to Turkish parents.

Schiller — who handed in her Turkish passport to become an Austrian citizen when she was a teenager in 2003 — said that because of her presence on the list, she received a letter from the authorities in February asking her to prove she doesn't illegally hold dual nationality.

After many visits to the Turkish consulate in the city of Salzburg where she lives, she says she eventually managed to do so. But the process was not easy and she argues that her case proves the list is unreliable.


Alper Yilmaz (L) with his lawyer Bernhard Hofer. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

'Kafkaesque'

Others have found themselves trapped in a similarly “Kafkaesque” situation. 

Earlier this year, the Salzburg authorities stripped a Turkish man on the list of his Austrian citizenship, a decision subsequently upheld by a court, which argued that the list — whose mysterious origin the FPÖ has never revealed — could only have been produced by a bona fide Turkish authority. 

The man's lawyer, Peter Weidisch, said his client found himself in the “extremely difficult situation of… being asked to prove that he hadn't done something”.

To make matters worse, the Turkish authorities also washed their hands of him. 

Weidisch said his client was told “you are an Austrian citizen, we can't help you”.

Yilmaz, who runs a cafe in Vienna, has no idea how his name ended up on the list.

Born in Turkey, the 53-year-old came to Austria in the early 1980s and adopted Austrian citizenship in 1988. He says he has had no official contact with Turkey since. 

Yilmaz said the Turkish consulate in Vienna suggested he go back to Turkey to pursue his case.

But the cafe owner is reluctant to go as he believes his status as an Alevi Kurd, and his opposition to the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, could put him in danger.

Nationwide, 85 people have already had their citizenship revoked and the Vienna city authorities say they have hired an 26 extra staff to investigate 18,000 potential cases. 

Anti-Turkish rhetoric 

Yilmaz feels he has been caught up in political manoeuvrings outside his control. 

On the one hand, Turkish President Erdogan is keen to keep Turkish communities in Europe closely tied to the motherland, not least because they count among his most loyal supporters.

According to Austrian media reports, some Turkish consular officials are reluctant to help Turks give up their nationality. 

On the other hand is the anti-Turkish and outright Islamophobic rhetoric spouted by the far-right FPÖ.

Just last week the party posted a video about health insurance fraud that featured two fez-wearing cartoon criminals called Mustafa and Ali. It deleted the video after a storm of criticism.

Yilmaz says he has no political axe to grind with any party, but simply wants the government to come up with a fair solution.

“I am afraid, I have sleepless nights thinking: What happens now?” he says.

By Jastinder Khera/AFP

For members

MOVING TO AUSTRIA

‘Bring everything you have’: Key tips for dealing with Vienna’s immigration office MA 35

International residents of Vienna need the city's infamous MA 35, an immigration office known for delays and mistakes. However, there are some tips to make your visit more productive (and they don't necessarily involve moving away).

'Bring everything you have': Key tips for dealing with Vienna's immigration office MA 35

Austria is a country with a large proportion of immigrants and foreigners in its population. In fact, it continues to grow despite low birth rates because of the people moving to the Alpine country. In Vienna, the situation is even more pronounced, as the city has the highest share of international residents in the country.

Figures from the City of Vienna show that at the beginning of 2021, there were 805,039 foreigners living in the capital, which is almost 42 percent of the city’s population.

The office for immigration and citizenship in Vienna, known just as MA 35, is, for many immigrants, their first encounter with Austrian bureaucracy. Sooner or later, every foreigner living in the capital will pay a visit to the infamous MA35.

READ ALSO: ‘Insensitive and inefficient’: Your verdict on Vienna’s immigration office MA 35

The office has received plenty of criticism for long delays, mistakes and even mistreatment of those seeking services. Most recently, the long waiting times for citizenship applications have caused a stir, as The Local reported.

The Local readers have also shared their experiences, with a majority saying it was either “very poor” or “poor” and citing stories of delays, mistakes and rudeness. One respondent from Croatia had only one tip: “Move to another country”.

For them, the experience had been “terrible, delayed, without enough information”.

However, other readers have also shared their advice on how to have a better (or at least not so bad) experience with the MA 35. For example, one reader who chose to be anonymous said people should “keep your answers short and precise, so you don’t give the more reasons to doubt you”.

“Document everything and try and anticipate their needs, so you don’t go back and forth”, they added.

Another reader from Slovakia had short but valuable advice: “Come super early, plus you need small change for the copy machine.”

READ ALSO: Why is cash so important to Austrians?

Get prepared in advance

Julio C. Rimada Herrara, a Cuban who has lived in Vienna for three years, also has straightforward and useful advice: “Read in detail all the instructions and look for advice if needed”.

For many readers, the main thing was to get prepared in advance. Amra Brkic, from Bosnia, said: “prepare all documents and read all that is needed from documents”.

Another person, from Brazil, agreed: “Get all your documents filled and ready beforehand.”

They added there were still people filling out forms outside “even though you can print those from the web”. So, it’s good to know what you may need and sort it out before heading to the office.

Olga M., from Russia, believes there is no such thing as being overly prepared. She said: “Bring all the possible documents you have with you, even if nobody asked for them in advance”.

German is key

If there is one piece of advice that was repeated over and over by respondents of our survey, that was: to speak German. If only a little, to have a polite introduction, but better if fluently. And, if you are just not there yet, bring someone with you who does speak the language.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to get free vouchers to learn German in Vienna

Vineet Deshpande, from India, said: “If you don’t speak German, take someone who speaks German with you for the appointment.”.

Marta, from Poland, was more direct: “Learn German. No, it is not a joke.”

The Austrian capital Vienna is home to a large number of immigrants. (Photo by Dan V on Unsplash)

Aida, from Bosnia and Herzegovina, said: “If language skills are not yet on a conversation level, bring someone who can help you translate”. She also mentioned that it could be beneficial to hear other people’s experiences over social media and prepare in advance by talking to people going through similar situations.

However, Brenda Osorio disagrees: “Every case is different, don’t listen to the people who advise you”.

“If you have a question and they don’t reply to you, go directly to ask. It is also our responsibility as immigrants to have our documents organised and to inform ourselves”, Brenda, who is Mexican, added.

Get professional assistance

For many people, the best idea is to hire a professional attorney specialising in migration law. That way, you ensure things are done on time and all documents comply with Austrian rules.

“A professional lawyer will advise the applicants on preparing a completed document for the MA35. By having completed documents, you will ease the job of the offices and so you will get your permit or citizenship easily,” said Kim Koay, who came from Malaysia and has lived in Vienna for around ten years.

“They will look through your document and, if everything is okay, approve their permit on the same day. I have experienced this myself”, she said.

READ ALSO: Visas to qualifications: How foreign residents in Europe can get help with paperwork problems

A reader from the United States who recently moved to Austria said: “Sadly, we only had a response when we worked with a relocation agent. If you can afford one, save yourself time and heartache by working with a reputable company.”

Jack French, from the UK, said: “Engage a lawyer – it is worth the cost to avoid totally endless delays and unreasonable demands.”

Time and persistance

Many readers also acknowledged that the office simply needs more time, especially since the Austrian capital has so many immigrants (and continues to receive more each day).

“Apply well before the expiry of your cards and keep asking them about the status of your application on a regular basis”, said one reader who stated they were from Asia.

austria passport

Those looking to apply for the Austrian citizenship also need to go to the MA 35 (© Amanda Previdelli / The Local)

When it comes to the appointment, Maddi Latimer, from Canada, had some advice that could help you avoid long lines and wasted time outside of the office: “make your appointment early in the morning in order not to get caught waiting due to backed up appointments”.

Stefan de Paula, who has lived in Austria for seven years but moved from Brazil, had a bleak but honest tip: “Get used to the lack of motivation of those people. It’s nothing personal with you; they just can’t do better.”

READ MORE: What measures against foreigners is Austria’s far-right trying to take?

Still, keep being persistent. Nicole, from the United States, said: “Call and email regularly – as much as you can and in German.”

For a reader in Serbia, kindness was the best tip: “learn at least to say hello, thank you and similar in German.

“Treat employees in MA kindly and try to explain why this procedure is really important for you (you don’t want to be separated from your partner as you just got married, an employer is really needing you to start soon…).”

If nothing else works, though, don’t forget that Austria is still a country that puts great value on titles. Pallavi Chatterjee, from India, experienced this first hand: “Pro-tip: share your academic degrees after your name on your email signature. I hate to admit it, but my two postgraduate degree titles after my name kinda helped.”

And remember, it’s not uncommon for them to make mistakes.

So, the advice from Michael Crean, who comes from Ireland, is also essential: “Do not simply accept the information or demands they give you. Check out other sources and get professional advice”.

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