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Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

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

The Austrian Parliament Building
Austria's Parliament Building(PHOTO BY JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

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.

Additionally, figures showing that 1.4 million people won’t be allowed to vote in these elections have also led some to question democracy itself in Austria.

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: “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.

Vienna city Mayor Michael Ludwig (SPÖ). (Copyright: C.Jobst/PID)

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 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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For members


Austrian citizenship: Can you be rejected because of a driving offence?

Naturalisation processes may be on the rise in Austria, but citizenship is still hard to get, and any mistake could mean you miss out on the opportunity. Here's what you need to know.

Austrian citizenship: Can you be rejected because of a driving offence?

Becoming a citizen of another country is a big decision, especially in a country with many requirements, rules and fees like Austria. For example, in order to apply for naturalisation, you need to have lived in Austria for at least six years (or up to ten in some cases) and must meet another range of criteria.

The requirements fall into several broad categories, one of which is that you must have no criminal convictions and there are no pending proceedings against you.

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

Additionally, people who have received one or more administrative penalties in Austria are also barred from applying for at least five years if at least one of those penalties incurred fines of more than €1,000.

Administrative violations include drinking and driving, running a red light or stop sign and, yes, speeding. If your speeding fine totalled more than €1,000, – meaning you have likely been well beyond the speed limit – you need to pay it and wait five years before applying for citizenship. 

How high are speeding fines in Austria?

There are no specific amounts that people need to pay for each offence. Instead, the law stipulates a range, and a judge will decide on a case by case basis.

Exceeding the maximum speed limit will result in a fine from €300 to €5,000 with the amount depending on aggravating factors such as how far above the speed limit the driver was and whether they had previous speeding offences.

READ ALSO: Does Austria have a street car racing problem?

Other offences that can lead to fines of more than €1,000 include driving with an alcohol content above the limit, driving in dangerous conditions such as by participating in illegal street races, failing to stop to provide assistance after a traffic accident and others. 

Other requirements

Being “blameless” is just one requirement for naturalisation in Austria. The applicant must also prove that they speak German to an adequate degree and that they are integrated (they need to show a German certificate and pass a citizenship test).

Additionally, you are barred from applying for citizenship if you have received minimum income support for more than 36 months within the last six years. 

You (or your partner) also need to have a regular income at the moment of application that “sufficiently secures your livelihood”. For a single person living alone, this means your net monthly income minus regular monthly expenses (such as rent and loan payments) needs to be higher than €1,030.49 (2022 numbers).

If the person has one child, the amount goes up to €1,189.49.

READ ALSO: How much do you need to earn for a good life in Austria?

Those are very high standards in a country where the average net income is €2,161.99 and rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the Vienna city centre averages €915. Furthermore, there are also costs to the citizenship process. In the capital, people can expect to pay between €1,200 and €1,500 for the bureaucracy – not adding values for any translation needed, for example.

Finally, a significant requirement, one that certainly puts off many, is that the person naturalising must give up their original citizenship. This is because Austria will only accept dual citizenship after naturalisation in extremely rare cases.

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