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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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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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