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AUSTRIAN CITIZENSHIP

Could presidential criticism lead to Austrian citizenship rule changes?

Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen has hit out at Austria's naturalisation process, saying "the hurdles are too high". But how hard is it to get Austrian citizenship - and will the criticism lead to change?

van der bellen austria
Alexander van der Bellen attends a military ceremony at the Heldenplatz square in Vienna, Austria, after he was sworn in as Austria's President on January 26, 2017. (Photo by VLADIMIR SIMICEK / AFP)

Austria’s federal president Alexander Van der Bellen, who is eyeing a second term in office in the autumn elections, has said that the hurdles for citizenship are too high in the alpine country.

“Citizenship is a valuable asset. I think the hurdles for obtaining it are too high.”, he said in an interview with the newspaper Kleine Zeitung.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How does Austria’s presidential election work?

Van der Bellen mentioned a case with a German citizen who has lived in Austria for 20 years and cannot obtain dual citizenship: “He can vote neither here nor there. And that is the European Union?”

Austria does not allow for dual citizenship of naturalised citizens except in very few cases (including naturalisation of those who are descendants of Holocaust victims).

This is one of the many hurdles to citizenship in the country.

What makes Austrian citizenship so difficult to get?

Citizenship through naturalisation, meaning you are not the son or daughter of an Austrian citizen, is particularly hard to get.

First of all, the majority of applicants will need to give up any other citizenships they hold. So, a British citizen taking Austrian nationality through marriage or residence time will have to give up their British passport.

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

Besides severing that connection to a home country where people might still have many ties, this can lead to difficulties in matters of inheritance and property ownership, for example.

The naturalisation process is also long and expensive in Austria. In Vienna, the application costs €130. If successful, the new Austrian citizen can expect to pay from € 1,100 to € 1,500 just for the award – that doesn’t include costs with documentation, translation, and issuance of documents such as an Austrian passport.

The length of the process varies, but it can take more than a year for citizenship to be awarded.

The requirements will also be different depending on how long the person is legally an Austrian resident and what is their connection to the country.

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

For example, after 30 years of residence in Austria, you need to prove you are not a danger to the country and that you can support yourself.

You also need to prove German skills and pass a citizenship test.

The minimum amount of time of legal residency after which you can require citizenship is six years for people who fall into specific categories, such as legal and uninterrupted residence in Austria and possession of the citizenship of an EEA state, birth in Austria or German at a B2 level.

Will Austria change its citizenship rules?

It is improbable that there will be any significant changes soon. Despite Van der Bellen’s statements, citizenship laws are not within the federal president’s competence and mostly depend on legislative changes.

The party leading the ruling coalition, ÖVP, is against any changes, claiming that making the process easier would “depreciate” Austrian citizenship.

READ ALSO: ​​Why has naturalisation doubled in 2022 – and who are Austria’s new citizens?

Austria has recently seen a jump in naturalisation numbers, but that can largely be viewed as a one-off phenomenon after changes in the process for descendants of Nazi victims.

While junior partner Greens have been in favour of easing some rules, little is expected to happen with the ÖVP in power. The next parliamentary elections are set for 2024, though. If the SPÖ continues climbing in the polls, an SPÖ-Green coalition could push forward different rules.

Also, if the Red-Green-Yellow ruling coalition in Germany does succeed in easing naturalisation rules in the neighbouring country, Austria could see further pressure for domestic changes.

But that remains to be seen, mainly depending on the 2024 election results.

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AUSTRIAN CITIZENSHIP

Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

Austria has some strict requirements on how and who can become an Austrian citizen, and the presidential elections have brought the debate back into the spotlight. Could the rules change?

Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

Those who want to take up Austrian citizenship via naturalisation need to undergo an extensive and expensive process and fulfil specific criteria.

Generally, there needs to be at least 10 years of lawful and uninterrupted residence in Austria. However, there are exceptions for those with citizenship of an EU or EEA country, those born in Austria, or married to an Austrian, for example.

The main hurdles, however, include having to give up any other citizenships, as Austria doesn’t allow for dual citizenship in naturalisation cases with few exceptions, and the payment of a high fee, which depends on the municipality.

In Vienna, the application costs €130. If successful, the new Austrian citizen can expect to pay from €1,100 to € 1,500 just for the award – that doesn’t include costs with documentation, translation, and issuance of documents such as an Austrian passport.

But why are Austrians debating the issue again?

With just over 17 per cent of its 8.9 million residents immigrants and a quarter of people living in Austria having a “migration background”, the issue has never really not been discussed in the country.

However, it has been more recently brought again to the spotlight after statements by the current Federal President, Alexander Van der Bellen, who is running a reelection campaign. In an interview with local media, VdB said he believes the “hurdles” for citizenship are too high.

READ ALSO: Could presidential criticism lead to Austrian citizenship rule changes?

“Citizenship is a valuable asset. I think the hurdles for obtaining it are too high, ” he repeated on numerous occasions.

This sparked the debate once again, with several newspapers running stories on the naturalisation process in Austria and with politicians taking a stand on the issue.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer addresses a press conference in Berlin in March 2022.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer addresses a press conference in Berlin in March 2022. Photo: Stefanie Loos / POOL / AFP.
 
ÖVP: Chancellor Nehammer dismisses demands for changes

Most notably, Chancellor Karl Nehammer, from the conservative party ÖVP, has dismissed the requests entirely, saying that a “softening” of the process was “out of the question”.

The chancellor added that he sees no reason why the process should be changed.

Nehammer said on Sunday: “Let’s not pretend that everyone has to wait 20 years for naturalisation. Under certain conditions, naturalisation is possible for a large part of people after six to ten years.”

READ ALSO: ​​Why has naturalisation in Austria doubled in 2022 – and who are the new citizens?

The statements come as no surprise, as Austria’s People’s Party ÖVP often has already, on several occasions, said that any relaxation of the current naturalisation rules would “depreciate” Austrian citizenship.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Wiens Bürgermeister Michael Ludwig im Festsaal des Rathauses

SPÖ: Vienna’s SPÖ Mayor in favour of easing

Not all politicians are against changing, at least partially, the rules. During an SPÖ party congress, Vienna Mayor and SPÖ leader in the capital Michael Ludwig says “it makes sense” to make adjustments to the rules.

“I want easier access when it comes to reducing bureaucratic and financial barriers. It should be considered whether to make things easier for those who were already born here.”, he said on his social media.

Technically speaking, people born in Austria can apply for citizenship after six years of continuous residence, which makes the process a bit shorter, if not easier. However, they still need to pay high fees and give up their previous citizenship.

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

For example, a child born and raised in Austria to British parents could only become an Austrian citizen (and therefore vote) if they gave up their UK passport.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Austria’s Justice Minister Alma Zadic (© Parlamentsdirektion / Thomas Jantzen)
Greens: In favour of changes

“The Green position is very clear: We see it the same way as the Federal President,” stated the Green Minister of Justice Alma Zadic on Sunday evening in the ORF program ZiB2.

She said that the party could see not only changes in the process to make it less bureaucratic but also “financial changes”, adding that she has friends and acquaintances who simply “cannot afford to pay thousands of euros to get citizenship”.

However, the minister clarified that nothing would change in the current political setting, as the parties in favour of easing don’t hold a parliamentary majority. “We have a government agreement that does not provide for this point.”, she said.

Will Austria change its citizenship rules?

While junior partner Greens have been in favour of easing some rules, little is expected to happen with the ÖVP in power. The next parliamentary elections are set for 2024, though. If the SPÖ continues climbing in the polls, an SPÖ-Green coalition could push forward different rules.

Also, if the Red-Green-Yellow ruling coalition in Germany does succeed in easing naturalisation rules in the neighbouring country, Austria could see further pressure for domestic changes.

But that remains to be seen, mainly depending on the 2024 election results.

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