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Austria to grant citizenship to descendants of Nazi victims

Austria's parliament has voted to grant citizenship to the descendants of Nazi victims, who fled the country under Hitler's Third Reich.

Austria to grant citizenship to descendants of Nazi victims
Photo: AFP

MPs voted by a broad majority for new legislation proposed by Sebastian Kurz's conservative-far-right coalition government before it was deposed in a corruption scandal in May.

Under the new law, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who fled the Nazis can apply for citizenship. Until now only Holocaust survivors themselves could obtain Austrian nationality.

Vienna's Jewish community leader Oskar Deutsch welcomed “a decision that puts Austria in line with its historic responsibility”.

Kurz's People's Party (OeVP), which is hoping for another strong mandate in September 29 national elections,  made several diplomatic gestures to Israel in the 18 months it governed together with junior coalition partner, the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe).

The new law applies to descendants of those who were Austrian when they fled, or the nationality of another country under the Austro-Hungarian empire that extended from what is now the Czech Republic to beyond Croatia until 1918.

Under a special regime, Vienna, which does not normally recognised double nationality, will grant passports without the need to reside in Austria or give up a previous nationality.

During the debates on the bill in parliament, Austrian officials said second and third-generation relatives of those who fled had inquired about the proposed changes, and particuarly those with British nationality as Brexit looms.

A Viennese Jewish Community employee said the centre did not have any numbers for how many people might be eligible to apply for Austrian citizenship.

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AUSTRIAN CITIZENSHIP

EXPLAINED: Who is entitled to Austrian citizenship by descent and how to apply for it?

Austria's nationality law is based on the principle of "jus sanguinis", with citizenship is given to sons and daughters of Austrian parents, but this can get tricky.

EXPLAINED: Who is entitled to Austrian citizenship by descent and how to apply for it?

As in many other European countries, Austria’s citizenship rules are based on blood (jus sanguinis). A child is considered Austrian if at least one of their parents is Austrian, irrespective of place of birth.

In theory, this should be a simple concept. But, in Austria, it can get tricky depending on the year a child was born, whether the mother or the father is an Austrian citizen and whether or not they were married at the time of birth.

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

Here is a simple guide to understanding how Austrian citizenship by descent works, who is entitled to it and how to apply.

Children born to married parents

A child that was born in wedlock, meaning that their parents were married at the time of birth, is entitled to Austrian citizenship by descent if at least one of the parents is an Austrian citizen at the time of the child’s birth.

However, children born before September 1983 are only entitled to Austrian citizenship if the father is Austrian. This is because, before a change in the law, the country considered that the woman would automatically “take” the citizenship of her married partner.

Things are the opposite for unmarried partners.

Children born to unmarried parents

A child that was born out of wedlock can obtain Austrian citizenship by descent if the mother is Austrian at the time of the birth.

Since August 2013, children born to unmarried parents can obtain Austrian citizenship if the father is Austrian, and an acknowledgement of paternity is made within eight weeks of the child’s birth.

In all cases where recognition of fatherhood or the determination by the court is done after his timeframe, children may be awarded Austrian citizenship by award in a simplified procedure. However, this means that the child will still have to go through specific requirements for naturalisation.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to apply for Austrian citizenship

Adopted children

Children of adoptive parents can obtain citizenship through a simplified and accelerated award process up to 14.

When things get tricky(er)

Things get a little bit more complicated if a person is trying to acquire Austrian citizenship by descent from a distant ancestor.

This is because they will need to prove that every person in the “bloodline” is entitled to Austrian citizenship, following the rules and considering the year.

For very distant relatives, with many family members born before 1983, each person must have been born either to married parents with an Austrian father or unmarried parents with an Austrian mother.

A birth, marriage, and death certificate (when available) will have to be shown for each relative in the Austrian bloodline. Additionally, the State will require proof that none of the persons has renounced Austrian citizenship before the birth of a son or daughter.

READ ALSO: How foreigners can get fast-track citizenship in Austria

Finally, there is an issue of whether the ancestor really was Austrian at all.

Between 1867 and 1918, Vienna was one of the capitals of an immense empire, the Dual Monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The territory extended through what is now Austria and Hungary but also Slovenia, the Czech Republic, parts of Italy, Croatia, Serbia, parts of Poland, Romania, Ukraine, and Montenegro.

After the First World War, the Austro-Hungarian empire was dissolved. But, then, not all people who first considered themselves Austrians still kept Austrian citizenship. Thus, it is not uncommon for families that believe a grandfather came from Austria to find out they actually were Romanian or Polish, for example.

austria flag austrian flag austria

Austrian flag: who is entitled to citizenship by descent? (Photo by Sandra Grünewald on Unsplash)

How to apply for it?

If you are entitled to Austrian citizenship by descent, there are several ways to apply for it, depending on your residency. For people who live outside of Austria, the Embassy or consulate is the place to go.

For those who live in Austria, the provincial government’s office is where you can get more information and submit the documents.

Exceptions and different rules

In 2020, the Austrian federal government introduced an amendment to the Austrian Citizenship Act also to allow descendants of victims to apply for dual citizenship and become citizens in a simplified process.

All former Austrian citizens who were forced to leave before 15th May 1955 can apply for dual citizenship. This includes citizens of successor states of the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy who were residents in Austria.

READ ALSO: How descendants of victims of Nazism can apply for Austrian citizenship

The law extends to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including those that were adopted as a child.

Dual citizenship

In general, Austria does not allow for dual citizenship. Therefore, when people naturalise Austrian, one requirement is to renounce other citizenships.

READ ALSO: Austrian citizenship: Do you really have to renounce your original nationality?

However, people who acquire citizenship by descent do not have to renounce other citizenship. If, in the case of parents of different nationalities, the country of citizenship of the non-Austrian parent also foresees a jus sanguinis (citizenship “by blood” like Austria), the child will have dual citizenship.

According to Austrian law, the child does not have to decide between Austrian and the other nationality upon becoming an adult – the other State might require such a decision.

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