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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.

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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IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Data shows that more than a quarter of Austria's population has a 'migration background'. Which nationalities are most common?

IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Austria’s population is growing, which is necessary for economic growth and maintaining the social system that is such a vital part of the country.

However, the only reason the country keeps growing is because of immigration, according to the statistics institute Statistik Austria.

“Austria’s population is growing solely due to immigration. Without it, according to the population forecast, the number of inhabitants would fall back to the level of the 1950s in the long term”, says Statistik Austria’s director general Tobias Thomas.

READ ALSO: Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

Since 2015, the share of the population with a “migration background” has risen continuously from 21.4 percent to 25.4 percent, the institute stated. As Austria has about 8.8 million people, this means 2.24 million people have a migration background in the country.

For the survey, Statistik considered people with a “migration background” to be those whose parents were both born abroad, regardless of their own nationality or place of birth. Persons with one parent born in Austria do not have a “migration background” according to this definition.

And while German is still the most common nationality among foreigners in Austria (218,347 people), much has changed since 2015 (when there were 170,475 Germans).

The number of Romanians has almost doubled (from 73,374 to 140,454), bringing them to the second-largest foreigner community in Austria, behind German citizens.

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

In 2015, Turkish was the second-largest foreign nationality in Austria (there were 115,433), but they are now the fourth (with 117,944 people), behind German, Romanian, and Serbians (121,643).

Numbers of Ukrainians, Syrians, and Afghanis are soaring

The data shows that the most significant jump in the number of foreigners is from those countries with a recent history of conflicts.

For example, in 2015, there were 11,255 people with Syrian nationality living in Austria, and the number soared to 70,901 in April 2022, almost five times more people.

In early 2015, Austria had 16,779 Afghani residents, a number that jumped 170 percent to 45,394.

READ ALSO: Ukrainian refugees push Austria’s population past nine million

When it comes to Ukrainians, the phenomenon is more recent, and the numbers show that.

While in 2015, there were 8,582 people with Ukrainian nationality living in Austria, on January 1st 2022, that number went to 12,673. And just three months later, after the Russian invasion, it soared to 52,803.