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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

READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: Will my children get an Austrian passport if born in Austria?

Having an Austrian passport can bring many advantages, including rights to stay in the country and to vote in national elections, but are children born and raised here entitled to it?

Reader question: Will my children get an Austrian passport if born in Austria?

Austria is one of the many European countries that adopt citizenship rules based on jus sanguinis, meaning that Austrian nationality is passed on by blood, not by territory.

Other countries also accept citizenship based on territory, so a person born in the United States or Brazil, for example, is considered an US or Brazilian citizen.

Both countries also accept “blood citizenship”, so a child born in New York to Austrian parents will be entitled to both citizenships (American and Austrian) based on US law.

It is not the same in Austrian law. The alpine country does not recognise citizenship jus soli, meaning that being born in Austria does not make a person Austrian.

If none of the parents of this child is an Austrian citizen at the time of birth, the child does not obtain Austrian citizenship either. Instead, they will receive whichever nationality their parents hold, following the parent’s country’s rules.

For example, a child of Turkish immigrants that is born in Austria will be Turkish even if their parents have been legally residing in Austria for years and were born here themselves.

Naturalisation process for people born in Austria

One alternative for people born in Austria to receive an Austrian passport is by going through a naturalisation process.

READ ALSO: COMPARE: Which EU countries grant citizenship to the most people? 

They will still need to fulfil specific requirements, but many will be easier for children born and raised here. For example, children who have six years of legal and uninterrupted residence in Austria and birth in Austria can already apply for citizenship instead of waiting for 15 or even 30 years of legal residence in some cases.

Many other points, including proof of knowledge of German at level B2 or five years of marriage to an Austrian, will also allow people who have been legally and uninterruptedly living in Austria for six years to apply for citizenship early.

Besides that, children born here have an “easier” path to citizenship in certain requirements. For example, those younger than 14 years old don’t need to submit proof of German language skills.

Kids will likely have less trouble proving they’ve had no problems with the law, administrative violations, and that they are not a threat to Austrian security.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to get Austrian citizenship or stay permanently in Austria

However, they will need to renounce their previous citizenship. If not possible because of the other country, they will be asked to do so, or to “choose a citizenship”, once they turn 18.

Which children born in Austria are automatically Austrians?

Children automatically become Austrian citizens at birth if their mother is an Austrian citizen. The same applies to children whose parents are married if only the father is an Austrian citizen.

In cases where a child’s parents are not married, and only the father is Austrian, the child acquires citizenship by origin if the Austrian father either acknowledges paternity after eight weeks of the baby’s birth or if the paternity is acknowledged or proven by the court.

In these cases, when the child has parents of different citizenships, Austria allows for dual citizenship.

Whereas in a naturalisation process, the child will need to give up their other passports to become Austrian, if they have an Austrian mother and a British father, for example, they can keep both, according to Austrian law.

What can I do if I want my child to be a dual citizen?

One thing many parents do if they want their child to become Austrian and keep another citizenship is naturalising themselves before the baby is born.

The parent who naturalises Austrian will lose his or her previous citizenship, but the child will then be born to an Austrian and a foreign parent and therefore be entitled to inherit and keep both.

READ ALSO: How can I apply for dual citizenship in Austria?

For example, two American parents living in Austria could have an American-Austrian child if one of them naturalises before the baby’s birth. Provided, of course, they themselves fulfil the criteria for naturalisation.

A child could even hold multiple nationalities if they were all “by blood”

The child of a Brazilian-Italian father and an Austrian mother, for example, would be entitled to all three passports. They would not need to lose any citizenship – not even when turning 18.

Austria provides for loss of citizenship in just a few cases, though, including when a person voluntarily joins another country’s military service.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Am I eligible for Austrian citizenship?

How much does it cost?

Austrian citizenship is not easy to get. Besides the difficulty to fulfil criteria, and the need to renounce other citizenships, it is one of the more costly processes in the EU.

The application itself costs around € 130, and you can expect to pay between €1,100 and € 1,500 if you are granted citizenship.

That is only for the process itself, which does not include any legal assistance you might procure or the translation and certification of documents.

READ MORE: How much does it cost to become an Austrian citizen?

Follow-up costs, like for the actual passport, are also not included. Don’t worry, though. For this sort of cash, Austria takes credit cards.

Useful vocabulary

Staatsbürgerschaft – citizenship
minderjährige Personen – minors
Voraussetzungen – prerequisites
bestimmten Zeitraum – specific period of time
Nachweis von DeutschKenntnissen – Proof of knowledge of German

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