SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

AUSTRIAN CITIZENSHIP

ANALYSIS: Could Austria ever change the rules to allow dual citizenship?

As neighbouring Germany prepares to pave the way to allow dual citizenship, Austria still seems stuck on its strict rules. How likely is the situation to change in the country?

austria passport
(© Amanda Previdelli / The Local)

Austria has some of the strictest naturalisation rules in Europe. Besides being expensive (with fees and costs totalling more than €2,000 in some cases), the process usually means applicants need to renounce their original citizenship.

Many foreign residents are reluctant to do so for reasons ranging from property and inheritance issues in their home country. Others simply feel connected to both Austria and their home country but are not willing to renounce their original citizenship.

Hence why many countries allow dual citizneship.

An immigrant in Austria who has parents in their home country and children in Austria, might, understandably, want to hold nationality of both.

The dual citizenship debate is set to be sparked off once again in Austria with neighbouring Germany set to bring the issue to their Bundestag before Christmas with the aim of easing the rules, as our colleagues at The Local Germany reported.

Hearing the debate in a neighbouring country with similar immigration, integration and worker shortage issues is likely to set restart the same debate among Austrians. But dual citizenship has never been a consensus issue in Austria, with parties diverging on their opinions,

What are the rules in Austria now?

Dual citizenship is simply not allowed for most people in Austria. This not only means that applicants have to give up citizenship of their own country to naturalise but also that Austrians living abroad would have to give up being Austrian citizens if they wish to have full rights (including voting) where they live.

According to the law, there are only two cases when dual citizenship is allowed in naturalisation cases.

First, if the retention of original citizenship is in the Republic of Austria’s interest–usually due to a person’s achievements or status. A famous case is that of Styria-born Arnold Schwarzenegger. The actor and politician asked (and was granted the right) to be able to retain his Austrian citizenship as he naturalised as a US citizen in 1983.

Second, if personal reasons are worth considering, the law doesn’t provide any specific examples and an exception would depend on personal circumstances.

READ ALSO: What measures against foreigners is Austria’s far-right trying to take?

Attorney Dr Wiesflecker, from Law Experts Rechtsanwälte-Attorneys, said: “We often argue that the person has a leadership role in his field, especially compared to other Austrians of his industry.

“The process involves submitting a lengthy application detailing the applicant’s life and reasons for wanting dual citizenship.”

It’s important to note that if a person is a dual citizen by birth – meaning one parent is Austrian and another isn’t – they are allowed to keep both citizenship. Another important exception concerns victims of the National Socialist (Nazi) regime.

In September 2020, the Austrian government introduced an amendment to the Austrian Citizenship Act, which allowed victims (and their descendants) of the national socialist regime to apply for dual citizenship.

Why are they changing the rules in Germany?

The German government is working on a modernisation of its Citizenship Act. It intends to allow multiple citizenships and make the process faster and simpler.

“Immigrants who want to stay in Germany permanently should be given the opportunity to take part and contribute fully through naturalisation. The modernisation of the Citizenship Act is intended to create the right framework for this,” a federal Interior Ministry spokeswoman told The Local.

“Multiple citizenships should generally be permitted. For naturalisation, it will no longer be necessary to give up your previous citizenship.”

The 2021’s coalition agreement between the traffic light parties – the Social Democrats (SPD), liberal Free Democrats (FDP), and Greens brought to the German government that advocated modernising the citizenship law, adapting it to the reality of an immigration society.

READ ALSO: EXCLUSIVE: German Bundestag to debate law allowing dual citizenship in December

Filiz Polat, Migration and Integration Speaker for the Greens in the Bundestag, told The Local that permitting dual nationality was a “long overdue” change.

“A modern citizenship law is essential for an immigration country like Germany,” she says. “Citizenship will become an enduring bond of legal equality, participation, and belonging.”

Does Austria need to allow for a dual citizenship law?

That would, of course, depend on the point of view. Based on the arguments brought by the German leaders, then yes, Austria is due a modernisation of its laws.

An Austrian flag on top of the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. Image: Alex Halada/AFP

Similarly to Germany, Austria is a country of immigration. Statistik Austria showed that one in four residents in the country has a ‘migration background’. That meant around 2.24 million people.

The number is high, but it gets even more impressive when we understand what was considered as having a migration background: people whose parents were both born abroad. Persons with one parent born in Austria do not have a “migration background”, according to this definition.

READ ALSO: ‘Bring everything you have’: Key tips for dealing with Vienna’s immigration office MA 35

The number of foreign citizens, meaning those without Austrian citizenship, is also high. At the start of 2022, there were around 1.6 million foreigners living in Austria, according to data from Statista.

Figures from the City of Vienna show that at the beginning of 2021, there were 805,039 foreigners living in the capital, which is almost 42 percent of the city’s population.

Several voices in Austria have for years argued that this poses threat not just to the integration of these people but to democracy itself

Georg Lauß, a Politics teacher from the Pedagogical University of Vienna, said: “One can be of the opinion that it is not a problem if 15 percent of the population are not allowed to vote. But what if it’s 20 or 30 percent, so when is the point reached where we can no longer speak of a democracy?”

Will Austria change its rules soon?

This is a never-stopping issue in a country with hundreds of thousands of foreigners – a number that keeps growing even if immigration simply stops (many foreigners are people born in Austria to non-Austrian parents).

This year, Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen brought it up again when he said he believed the “hurdles” for citizenship are too high. It immediately brought responses from left and right.

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

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

On several occasions, Austria’s People’s Party ÖVP has already said that any relaxation of the current naturalisation rules would “depreciate” Austrian citizenship.

However, Vienna Mayor and SPÖ leader in the capital Michael Ludwig said “it makes sense” to make adjustments to the rules.

“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 the other side of the spectrum, the far-right FPÖ has always been vehemently opposed to any changes that could ease the process, including allowing for dual citizenship.

New rules require a new government

In the end, a coalition as it is in Austria, with the main party ÖVP and junior party Greens, is unlikely to bring any changes anytime soon.

The next parliamentary elections are set for 2024, though. This is when Austria decides on a new National Council and chancellor.

Things look tricky for Austria. Current coalition partners are plummeting in polls while the centre-left SPÖ e and far-right FPÖ climb. As it stands, a coalition between SPÖ-ÖVP looks likely – though the growth of the Greens and liberal NEOS could see Austria’s own “traffic light” coalition between SPÖ-Greens-NEOS.

In the first case, such a delicate combination would mean that tricky and lower priority issues (such as, let’s face it, allowing foreign people, the non-voters, to naturalise in a more accessible and less demanding process) would likely be dropped in favour of more stable compromises.

Meaning: it’s unlikely that the SPÖ would spend political clout trying to pass something like dual citizenship.

In the second case, changes could become more likely, especially if the modernisation of the laws in Germany puts further pressure on domestic changes in Austria.

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

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

IMMIGRATION

What is Vienna’s MA 35 doing to offer better service for immigrants in Austria?

The city of Vienna now has several new appointment slots for a 'first information meeting' for those wanting to apply for Austrian citizenship. Here's what you need to know.

What is Vienna's MA 35 doing to offer better service for immigrants in Austria?

The office for immigration and citizenship in Vienna, MA 35, is known for long waiting periods, delays and even mistakes being made in applications. It has recently received renewed criticisms as new appointments for Austrian citizenship were not open until mid-2023.

Things got even worse, and applicants now have to wait until October 2023 to get the first appointment. Only after this meeting will they receive another date (sometimes also a year later) to submit the documents asked. 

READ ALSO: ‘Insensitive and inefficient’: Your verdict on Vienna’s immigration office MA 35

Green politician Aygül Berivan Aslan said the reform of MA 35 had “failed”. She said she welcomed the SPÖ’s push towards simplifying access to citizenship but felt that “theory and practice do not match”. Speaking in the Viennese parliament, she introduced a motion for a six-month evaluation of the office.

Aslan also proposed that in the case of delays of more than six months, citizenship costs should be waived for applicants. 

Stadt Wien service screenshot

How bad is the situation?

Not only do people have to wait months for a first talk and then months to submit documents, but once their part is done, the wait is not over. There are currently 3,800 procedures pending for more than half a year in the MA 35, Deputy Mayor and City Councillor for Integration Christoph Wiederkehr (NEOS) said.

He justified delays saying that the number of applications had risen by around 30 percent his year in Vienna – only last month, there were 600 appointments booked. 

“The sharp increase can be explained by the eligibility of refugees from 2015 to apply for citizenship as well as by uncertainties caused by the war in Ukraine”, he said.

READ ALSO: ‘Bring everything you have’: Key tips for dealing with Vienna’s immigration office MA 35

He added that the goal would need to be “simplifying the procedures nationwide”. However, Wiederkehr also said there were reforms still being implemented in the MA 35.

Wiederkehr said: “On the part of the city, there are ongoing staff increases at MA 35. The training of the employees is so complex that it takes about a year.” 

“In addition to the increase in staff, there was an analysis to optimise some work processes, as well as intensive training. Digitalisation is also being accelerated”, he added.

SHOW COMMENTS