MA35: Vienna’s immigration office under fire as waiting times increase

Vienna's office for citizenship and immigration, otherwise known as MA35, is getting renewed criticism as new appointments for Austrian citizenship cannot be scheduled before mid-2023.

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How to move to Austria if you don't have Austrian citizenship?. (Photo: Amanda Previdelli / The Local)

Criticism of Vienna’s MA35 immigration office continues unabated as waiting times for applications drag on for months, broadcaster ORF reported.

Now long waiting times for citizenship applications are causing a stir. If you want to apply for citizenship in Vienna, you must first make an appointment for an informational interview at MA35.

Currently, applicants have to wait at least until the end of June 2023 to even be able to get this first appointment. Only after this meeting will people looking to apply for Austrian citizenship get a list of which documents must be presented.

READ ALSO: How foreigners can get fast-track citizenship in Austria

The official in charge, Christoph Wiederkehr (NEOS) announced reforms last year.

At that time, the authority was criticised for unanswered telephone calls, endlessly long procedures or applicants who did not even manage to get an appointment.

Wiederkehr hired more staff and set up a telephone service centre but in practice, the reforms have brought few improvements, Ralf Niederhammer, a lawyer specialising in citizenship law, told ORF.

“The fact that procedures drag on for years is something we have had for many, many years and it has to do with the organisational structure, the file management and the file administration in the authority,” said Niederhammer.

READ ALSO: Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

He advises people to make applications and document exchanges in writing. The process is always done in person at the MA35, but keeping written documentation allows people to, for example, file a complaint in case of delays.

The authority, which deals with all matters concerning immigration and citizenship, said that the demand for appointments had risen sharply since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.

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Reader question: Can I vote in Austria’s presidential elections?

On October 9th, Austria will vote to elect a new president, but who can vote in these national elections?

Reader question: Can I vote in Austria's presidential elections?

Austria’s presidential election will take place on October 9th, with seven candidates vying to take over at the Hofburg – the official workplace of the country’s president.

According to opinion polls, the favourite to win is the current president Alexander Van der Bellen, who is running for reelection.

READ ALSO: Austrian presidential elections: Who are the seven candidates?

A presidential candidate must be an Austrian citizen, be eligible to vote in the National Assembly and be at least 35 years old on election day.

Members of ruling dynasties or families that reigned in the past are not eligible to run in the presidential election. This is to avoid a return to monarchy in Austria via the role of the Federal President.

Who can vote in these elections?

The only people allowed to vote in Austrian federal elections are Austrian citizens aged 16 or above.

That means foreigners – even those born and raised in Austria, are not entitled to choose a new president. Unless, of course, they take up Austrian citizenship (usually giving up their original citizenship).

Since Austria has a large proportion of foreigners in the population, many people will not be able to vote in these elections.

READ ALSO: ‘I pay taxes in Austria’: Anger as foreigners barred from Vienna council vote

In fact, some 18 percent of residents (or 1.4 million people) in Austria over the age of 16 do not have the right to vote because they are not citizens, with the highest concentration of ineligible people in Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg.

In comparison, 20 years ago, Austria had just 580,000 people without the right to vote.

Statistics Austria data evaluated by the APA shows that around 30 percent of the voting-age population in Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg are not entitled to vote. In Linz and Graz, it is about 25 percent.

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

However, there are some smaller communities in Austria where the number of people without the right to vote is even higher.

In Jungholz in Tyrol, 66 percent of the population are not eligible, followed by 51 percent in Mittelberg in Vorarlberg. Kittsee in Burgenland and Wolfsthal in Lower Austria also have high proportions of Slovakian residents who cannot vote.

Austrian citizenship

Currently, in Austria, if someone wants to take up citizenship via naturalisation, they must undergo an extensive and expensive process and fulfil specific criteria.

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

READ ALSO: Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

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, but could reach thousands of euros.

And though the topic of easing the requirements has come up several times in Austria, the country doesn’t seem any closer to changing its citizenship laws.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Where in Europe can non-EU foreigners vote in local elections?