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AUSTRIAN CITIZENSHIP

How descendants of victims of Nazism can apply for Austrian citizenship

In Austria, there are few exceptions that allow dual citizenship, but a special law for the victims and descendants of national socialism is one of them.

How descendants of victims of Nazism can apply for Austrian citizenship
Despite Austria's neutral status, the country does have a military. Photo: Creative Commons/Mikekilo74

The Austrian federal government removed the ban on dual citizenship for victims of the national socialist regime in 1993 in recognition of the country’s historical responsibility.

This was welcomed by campaigners but many people continued to demand the same rights for descendants as well.

Then, in September 2020, this became a reality when the government introduced an amendment to the Austrian Citizenship Act to also allow descendants of victims to apply for dual citizenship.

The move has since seen people from around the world reconnect with their heritage and become citizens of Austria – even if they live in another country.

What is the background to the new citizenship rule?

During the 1930s and 1940s, up to 120,000 Jews fled Austria to escape persecution, which often meant losing Austrian citizenship and becoming a citizen of another country.

This then left their children and grandchildren without a legal claim to Austrian citizenship.

The first person to benefit from the new law last year was 84-year-old Ben Zion Lapid. He left Austria in 1944 when he was eight-years-old and has spent most of his life in Israel.

Speaking to Der Standard about becoming a citizen of Austria, he said: “Israel is my home, of course, but it’s also something like coming home.”

Last year, Amber Catford from California, told The Local she was applying for dual citizenship as a descendant of her grandmother who had fled Austria to America.

Amber said: “There may be a dark history behind the reason I can gain citizenship, but it is special to be able to come back to a place many years later and reclaim a small piece of my family history.”

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

Who is eligible?

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 resident in Austria.

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

The law also applies to people that fled Austria before the Anschluss (the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany) on 12th March 1938 due to actual or feared persecution from the regime.

Attorney Dr Wiesflecker, from Law Experts Rechtsanwälte-Attorneys, told The Local: “Before this statute it was really difficult [for descendants] to get Austrian citizenship. 

“It was necessary to prove that Austrian citizenship was acquired by descent, which also included that the relevant ancestor had not voluntarily taken a foreign citizenship.”

FOR MEMBERS: How can I apply for dual citizenship in Austria?

How to apply for dual citizenship as a victim or descendant 

The Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs (BMEIA) and the City of Vienna developed a questionnaire to help interested applicants take their first steps in applying for dual citizenship.

The questionnaire is available in German, Hebrew, English and Spanish.

The results help to determine which documents are already on file in Austria and which documents need to be submitted.

The information provided also helps the Austrian Embassy or Consulate General to tailor advice and support depending on each individual case. 

However, the questionnaire is not mandatory and applications can still be made without completing it.

The next step is to contact the Austrian Embassy in the country where the applicant lives. 

Once the application has been processed and approved, the applicant will become an Austrian citizen and have the right to apply for an Austrian passport.

READ MORE: Will Austria implement easier citizen rules?

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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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