Politics For Members

EXPLAINED: How can foreigners have their say in Austria?

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: How can foreigners have their say in Austria?
Austrian citizens and asylum seekers march during a pro-refugee protest called "Let them stay" in Vienna, Austria on November 26, 2016.(Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Living in Austria as a foreign citizen means you don't have certain rights, such as voting for parliament members. However, there are other ways to have your say.


If you live in Austria as a foreign citizen, you won't have the same rights as Austrians. For example, certain professions, such as working for Austrian embassies abroad or some civil servants (such as police), won't be accessible to you, but perhaps the main difference is that you won't be able to vote in most elections.

In 2022, millions of Austrians went to the polls to vote for their president - and Alexander Van der Bellen was reelected for a second term. The election drew attention to a debate on what Austrian democracy is, as some 18 percent of residents (or 1.4 million people) in Austria over the age of 16 did not have the right to vote because they are not citizens, with the highest concentration of ineligible people in Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg. 


READ ALSO: Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

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.

The same number of people are prevented from voting for the national parliament (which then chooses the country's chancellor) and regional elections. 

So, how can foreigners have their say in Austria?

Local vote - but only if you are an EU citizen

Non-Austrians are not barred from all elections. If you are an EU citizen (which, since Brexit, does not include British people), you can vote in local elections. This means some foreign citizens are allowed to vote for municipal councils, or directly for a mayor, depending on the city.

A significant exception is the capital Vienna, which is a city but also its province making Viennese mayoral elections a regional - and not local - affair. Because of that, non-Austrian citizens are not allowed to vote for Vienna's City Council (which elects the mayor) even if they are EU citizens.

In the capital Vienna, local elections allow the participation of EU citizens to vote for Bezirk (districts) representatives. As non-EU nationals, citizens of countries such as the UK, the US, Turkey and others are not allowed to vote.

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


Petitions and citizen's initiative

Even if non-Austrians cannot be elected or vote for state and national elections, there is still a way to try and get your say - or at least get the government to consider your point. 

One way is by organising a petition and submitting it directly to a National Council or Federal Council member. They can then present it to the Austrian parliament, as long as it is in writing and relates to an area that is a federal matter in legislation or enforcement. This is an alternative to the "citizen's initiative" (Parlamentarische Bürgerinitiative), which requires the support of at least 500 Austrian citizens eligible to vote. Getting an Austrian citizen to "sponsor" (become the initiator of) your petition is also possible. 

On a regional and local level, however, it's possible to start and sign a petition even if you are not an Austrian citizen. The only requirement is that you are at least 16 years old and have your primary residence in the place where you submit a petition.

In Vienna, the petition platform is a comprehensive site where you can easily submit and sign petitions - all you need is your Handysignatur. The petitions must be regarding local matters and as soon as 500 people support them, they are dealt with by a special committee of the City Council. 

READ ALSO: Austrian citizenship: Do you really have to renounce your original nationality?

(Photo: Pau BARRENA / AFP)

Campaign and activist groups

Another way to have your say as a foreign is to join civic groups and initiatives that argue for your cause. There are several in Austria, including women's rights, climate protection, LGBTQ+ rights and antiracism organisations.

SOS Mitmensch NGO, for example, is a non-governmental organisation in Vienna that, according to the website: "campaigns loudly and actively for the implementation of human rights. Our aim is that all people have equal rights and equal opportunities". The group was founded in 1992 to protest against the “anti-foreigners referendum” of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), they added.

It is one of the most influential groups in Austria, promoting equal rights and opportunities for refugees and immigrants. 

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

Zara, the "civil courage and anti-racism-work" non-governmental organisation, is also prominent in fighting against racism and xenophobia in Austria, offering legal and psychological counselling to victims and witnesses of racism and documenting cases. 

Many groups also organiser protests and marches - another way to have your say even without being allowed to vote.



Another possibility within the government sector is to use Austria's ombuds offices and advocacy services, where citizens and non-citizens can submit complaints and issues and get counselling.

Besides local and regional ombuds offices, Austria also offers "thematic" ones for work, disability, education, health, equal treatment, young people and more. You can check a complete list HERE.


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