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What makes Austrian citizenship so hard to get?

Austrian citizenship is renowned as one of the hardest to get in Europe - but what makes it so difficult?

What makes Austrian citizenship so hard to get?
How hard is it to get Austrian citizenship? Photo by Ante Hamersmit on Unsplash

In June 2021, Austria’s Social Democrats kicked off a debate on citizenship by demanding the rules for naturalisation be relaxed. 

Among other things, the party argued that children born in Austria to long-term legal residents should get citizenship, while demanding that the period of waiting for naturalisation should be reduced. 

READ MORE: Will Austria implement easier citizenship rules?

The demand triggered a debate in Austria about whether citizenship rules should be relaxed – and why the process was so hard. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

What makes the rules so strict? 

At ten years’ continuous residence, Austria has one of the longest naturalisation processes of any European country, making it a slightly less attractive option for anyone looking for a shortcut to EU citizenship. 

Also, being born on Austrian soil does not secure you citizenship unlike in many other countries. 

Currently, only children born to an Austrian citizen mother automatically become Austrian citizens themselves at birth.

But if only the father is Austrian and the parents are not married, then an acknowledgement of paternity (Vaterschaftsanerkenntnis) can be made for the child to become Austrian.

Another reason is the strict rules which prohibit applicants from taking state support, with those who have taken state support in the period before applying often denied citizenship. 

Lawyer Peter Marhold told Der Standard that the rules prevent people taking state support are so strict that in one example, someone who had taken time off work to care for an ailing grandparent was denied citizenship because it was deemed that the person benefited from his grandmother being on social support. 

Another hurdle is the rule preventing people from being absent from the country for any more than 20 percent of the time before applying. 

One woman who had lived in Austria for 20 years was denied because she was posted abroad by her Austrian employers for a three year period, Marhold said. 

There are also strict rules which prevent people from having a criminal record. One taxi driver who had crossed the speed limit twice marginally was denied naturalisation, Marhold told Der Standard. 

Delays are also common and can run into several years. 

Combined with high application fees and the fact that, like Germany and Spain, Austria has strict rules against dual nationality, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the Austrian citizenship is one of the least applied-for citizenships in Europe. 

In the wake of Brexit, however, the number of Brits applying for an Austrian passport has been steadily rising. 

READ MORE: What you need to know about applying for Austrian citizenship

If you do want to become a naturalised Austrian and think you meet the requirements, you’ll need to fill in an application form and submit a range of documents, including your passport, birth certificate (translated into German), proof of your Austrian address and uninterrupted residency in the country, B1 German and a completed citizenship test.

You’ll also need to demonstrate that you have a positive attitude towards Austria and can support yourself financially without relying on the state.

What is the debate – and will anything actually change? 

Austria’s opposition SPÖ party (Social Democrats of Austria) is calling for easier access to Austrian citizenship.

The party argues there should be a legal right to citizenship after six years of legal residence, provided all other criteria are met. 

At ten years’ continuous residence, Austria has one of the longest naturalisation processes of any European country. 

COMPARE: Which European countries have the toughest rules for gaining citizenship?

The SPÖ also want children born in Austria to automatically receive citizenship if one parent has been legally resident in Austria for five years

In cases like this, children can also have dual citizenship.

The party also called for federal government fees of (currently €1,115 euros) for naturalisation to be canceled and individual state fees, to be standardised at a correspondingly low level.

However, while the centre-right SPÖ may be in favour, the proposals are also subject to significant opposition. 

COMPARE: Which European countries have the toughest rules for gaining citizenship

Interior Minister Karl Nehammer and Integration Minister Susanne Raab (both from the centre-right ÖVP) rejected the plans. 

The ÖVP has actually called for the period required for naturalisation to be extended to 25 years. 

Herbert Kickl, the new leader of the far-right FPÖ, criticised the plans and said it would bring “new voters through naturalisations on the assembly line”.

Given the opposition, it is unlikely that the plans would become incorporated under the current government, but they may become a key plank in the Social Democrats policies in the lead up to the next Austrian election in 2024 – particularly considering the degree to which they are supported by the SPÖ. 

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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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