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Why conservatives in Lower Austria want to tighten citizenship rules

Aaron Burnett
Aaron Burnett - [email protected]
Why conservatives in Lower Austria want to tighten citizenship rules
The Lower Austria branch of the country's centre-right conservatives wants an explicit acknowledgement of Israel's right to exist to be required for taking Austrian citizenship. (Photo by HELMUT FOHRINGER / APA / AFP) / Austria OUT

Lower Austria’s ÖVP – or centre-right people’s party – is circulating a draft paper of measures to tighten up Austrian citizenship rules. The proposed measures include longer required residence periods for some, and an explicit acknowledgment of Israel's right to exist.


What's happening?

The regional branch of the ÖVP wants future citizenship applicants to have to wait at least 10 years before they can apply, and for there to be a zero tolerance provision in the nationality law against anti-Semitism.

There’s no guarantee what’s in the paper will become law and even if it does, some measures may be cut out or watered down. The ÖVP’s Lower Austria regional party cannot tighten Austrian citizenship rules by themselves. With citizenship being a federal competence, the national government would have to agree to it.

However, Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s ÖVP governs nationally in a coalition with the Greens, so the paper could end up at least being considered by the national party.

The Lower Austria ÖVP wants changes on three main aspects of integration law.

READ ALSO: Why are fewer people getting Austrian citizenship in 2023?

Longer citizenship wait times – for some

Most foreigners already have to be resident in Austria for 10 years to be eligible for citizenship.

However, there are some exceptions – meaning that some people in certain situations can get citizenship earlier.

For example, people married to Austrians become eligible for Austrian citizenship after six years – if at least five of those six years were spent married to the Austrian partner. Citizens of other EU countries also become eligible after six years.

The draft proposals call for getting rid of these shortcuts, and making everyone have to be resident for at least a decade, regardless of their situation.

READ ALSO: Five surprising Austrian citizenship rules you should know about


Recognition of Israel’s right to exist

Lower Austria Governor Johanna Mikl-Leitner (ÖVP) says that given Austria’s historical responsibility to the Jewish people, taking Austrian citizenship should require an explicit acknowledgment of Israel’s right to exist.

Such recognition and the fight against anti-Semitism are “integral to the historical responsibility of our state—and therefore should be a basic requirement for granting Austrian citizenship,” she said.

People wave Palestinian flags and shout slogans in support of Palestine during a Pro-Palestinian demonstration outside the Chancellery in Vienna, Austria on October 15, 2023. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Mikl-Leitner says the October 7th attacks by Hamas against Israeli civilians were a “wake-up call” and that “we cannot tolerate counter-societies in our country – we must sanction them much more to defend our values."

READ ALSO: Concern grows in Austria over rise in anti-Semitic attacks

Harsher penalties for children not attending class

Mikl-Leitner says Austria needs clearer definitions of what violates mandatory schooling – and that parents who keep their kids out of Austrian schools should face tougher fines.

Parents of families who are not willing to integrate "must be heavily penalised financially".

The measures propose that those who violate mandatory schooling rules, or who fail to implement measures agreed with schools – such as psychological counselling or anti-violence training – should be fined anywhere between €500 and €2,500.

READ ALSO: Four things foreigners in Austria need to know about the education system


Why do they want to make citizenship laws tougher?

The Lower Austria ÖVP's proposals come following a rise in anti-Semitic violence in Austria, after terror group Hamas - which rules the Palestinian territory of Gaza - attacked and killed over 1,400 Israeli civilians on October 7th.

The Lower Austria ÖVP says tightening integration measures will help prevent parallel societies from forming which run contrary to Austrian values - which include a particularly hard line on anti-Semitism and support for Israel given the country's Nazi past.

The measures are similar to ones currently under review in neighbouring Germany - which is looking at tightening up its anticipated dual citizenship law - to make it harder for those with a history of anti-Semitism from becoming German.

With the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) leading in many Austrian polls, politicians have been proposing many ways to make integration requirements stricter by tightening up rules around benefits and residence.

These include a proposal from Integration Minister Susanne Raab to tie social benefit entitlement to improving German skills.

READ ALSO: Austrian minister wants foreigners to improve German level to keep social benefits


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