Vienna's MA 35 immigration office slammed over failings despite reform

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected] • 19 Jan, 2023 Updated Thu 19 Jan 2023 12:01 CEST
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The Austrian capital Vienna is home to a large number of immigrants. (Photo by Dan V on Unsplash)

Vienna's office which deals with immigration and citizenship has been criticised often and recently underwent a reform. But that has not been nearly enough to fix issues, a new investigation has found.

A new report by the NGO SOS Mitmensch, which is the result of interviews with 22 experts, affected users of the immigration department and officers who work there has brought to light new issues with Vienna's MA 35. 

According to the report, MA 35 interprets the laws particularly strictly, making cases more complex and bureaucratic.

There was also criticism of how numbers were recorded. For example,  if a person called back was unavailable, the callback was still considered "completed," said Maiko Sakurai of SOS Mitmensch. 

In addition, citizenship procedures are prematurely rejected instead of requesting additional documents - and such cases are still viewed as "completed" for the statistics.

READ ALSO: 'Citizenship is problem child': How Vienna's immigration office MA35 is changing

The report's findings come after the City of Vienna announced several improvements in the office. In 2021, the responsible city councillor Christoph Wiederkehr (Neos) ushered in reforms that included a call centre, an additional 50 employees and more digitisation.

'Still much to be done'

The reform process should be completed by the end of 2024 - but several measures have already 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.    

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

"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 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."

However, the report, as mentioned above, questions the numbers. 

Attorney Julia Ecker, who was one of the experts presenting the report, acknowledged the improvement efforts of the MA 35 management but still said there is a lot of room for improvement: "I feel the efforts are earnest and sincere, but still I have the impression that there is a lot that needs to be done."

The report identifies a total of 15 problem areas in MA 35, which lead to considerable difficulties for applicants. 

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

These include, among other things, waiting times of up to two years until the effective start of a citizenship procedure, poor communication of the authority, the loss of documents, the unclear and non-accessible online processing of information, and unprofessional and perceived discriminatory behaviour of individual employees.

"Unbearable waiting times, inadequate or completely lacking communication and, in some cases, employee misconduct are still the order of the day," said Alexander Pollak, spokesman for SOS Mitmensch.

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Amanda Previdelli 2023/01/19 12:01

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