'Citizenship is problem child': How Vienna's immigration office MA35 is changing
The Viennese Immigration and Citizenship Department (MA35) is one stopping point for any immigrant moving to the Austrian capital. But it has many problems, here is how the department has changed.
Any immigrant looking to move to Vienna will eventually have to deal with the MA35, the city's immigration and citizenship office, whether to get their residence permit, apply for the Anmeldebescheinigung or even years later, apply for Austrian citizenship.
The department processes an average of around 150,000 applications per year, according to the City of Vienna, and it has difficulties dealing with the amount, leading to many complaints.
One reader, Nicole, who comes from the United States, said her experience dealing with MA35 was "madness" in a recent The Local poll. Besides long waiting times (it takes more than a year to get a first appointment for naturalisation), people complain about rudeness, lost documents and contradicting requests.
Another reader, Juliana, who brought a native friend to help her with German, shared a curious situation: "They even asked for documents that didn't exist, but in the end, it all worked out."
After several complaints and media reports, the office began a large-scale reform process in 2021.
"The goal was to develop MA35 into a service-oriented authority with good accessibility and shorter procedures", the City of Vienna said.
So far, several measures have been taken, according to the authorities. For example, there is currently a telephone service centre with a ticketing system, the number of staff has been increased and an external consulting firm is supporting the structural reform concerning customer-friendliness and increased efficiency.
"With the telephone service centre, we have reached the first milestone in improving and professionalising customer service. In addition, we have taken a major step toward digitisation, which means that all new cases are now fully digitalised", said Vienna's Deputy Mayor Christoph Wiederkehr.
He added that the numbers show better services. "The length of proceedings in immigration has been reduced by more than 25 percent," he said. "In addition, 15 percent more procedures were completed."
The telephone service centre has been fully operational since December 2021, and 400,000 customer calls have been made so far.
The average waiting time for answering a call has been reduced from 3.6 minutes initially to 28 seconds, according to Stadt Wien. More than two-thirds of calls can be resolved immediately over the phone, but 145,000 tickets were created for more complex concerns. The average processing time for the tickets is 2.2 days.
Additionally, all internal procedural steps for new applications are now entirely digitised.
In the area of immigration, for example, the duration of procedures has already been reduced by over 25 percent since the end of 2021. On average, a process now takes around 52 days. In addition, approximately 15 percent more procedures have been completed. The average waiting time for a personal appointment here is currently about 24 days, MA35 said.
'Citizenship remains the problem child'
However, citizenship processes are still taking too long and the authorities say it is due to an increase in applications. Vienna processes more than half of the naturalisation requests in Austria, and the number of applications increased by 30 percent from the first quarter to the third quarter of 2022.
Because of that, the current waiting time for a personal appointment concerning citizenship is currently around 350 days, according to the authorities.
"Citizenship remains the problem child, but here, too, we are taking immediate measures to deal with the high number of applications.", said Wiederkehr.
One of the measures to shorten the waiting times for appointments is scheduling group appointments for initial information sessions - which will start already in January 2023.
MA35 is also working on more efficient workflows, with a pilot team already processing procedures faster since November 2022. The new workflow increases productivity in processing by 20 percent and should be rolled out to all teams in citizenship by the end of 2023.
Other measures include hiring more people, and 93 new staff will be added by April 2023, especially in Citizenship, and simplifying processes by implementing dozens of measures proposed in conjunction with NGOs", Stadt Wien said.
The reform process should be completed by the end of 2024.