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Will Austria implement easier citizenship rules?

The opposition Social Democrats have called for a relaxation in Austria's strict citizenship rules. Could this happen?

Will Austria implement easier citizenship rules?
An Austrian passport. Photo: Wikicommons

Austria’s opposition SPÖ party (Social Democrats of Austria) is calling for easier access to Austrian citizenship.

As The Local has previously reported, Austria has some of the strictest citizenship requirements in Europe.

The party argues there should be a legal right to citizenship after six years of legal residence, provided all other criteria are met. 

At ten years’ continuous residence, Austria has one of the longest naturalisation processes of any European country. 

COMPARE: Which European countries have the toughest rules for gaining citizenship?

The SPÖ also want children born in Austria to automatically receive citizenship if one parent has been legally resident in Austria for five years

Currently, only children born to an Austrian citizen mother automatically become Austrian citizens themselves at birth.

But if only the father is Austrian and the parents are not married, then an acknowledgement of paternity (Vaterschaftsanerkenntnis) can be made for the child to become Austrian.

In cases like this, children can also have dual citizenship.

The party also called for federal government fees of (currently €1,115 euros) for naturalisation to be canceled and individual state fees, to be standardised at a correspondingly low level.

Under the new plan, the rules would also be relaxed with regard to receipt of social benefits. 

Citizenship would then be open to all those who have not received social assistance benefits in at least 36 months in the past six years.

In addition, the SPÖ want to replace the existing citizenship exam with a course in which participants would help to “make our basic rights and democracy tangible in a participatory way”.

READ MORE: 

Could such a proposal pass? 

The reform efforts come from discussions which started at the SPÖ party conference in 2018 which later morphed into a Migration Working Group. 

The proposals as laid out above were passed unanimously by the SPÖ’s executive committee. 

However, while the centre-right SPÖ may be in favour, the proposals are also subject to significant opposition. 

Interior Minister Karl Nehammer and Integration Minister Susanne Raab (both from the centre-right ÖVP) rejected the plans. 

Herbert Kickl, the new leader of the far-right FPÖ, criticised the plans and said it would bring “new voters through naturalisations on the assembly line”.

Given the opposition, it is unlikely that the plans would become incorporated under the current government, but they may become a key plank in the Social Democrats policies in the lead up to the next Austrian election in 2024 – particularly considering the degree to which they are supported by the SPÖ. 

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POLITICS

Reader question: Can I vote in Austria’s presidential elections?

On October 9th, Austria will vote to elect a new president, but who can vote in these national elections?

Reader question: Can I vote in Austria's presidential elections?

Austria’s presidential election will take place on October 9th, with seven candidates vying to take over at the Hofburg – the official workplace of the country’s president.

According to opinion polls, the favourite to win is the current president Alexander Van der Bellen, who is running for reelection.

READ ALSO: Austrian presidential elections: Who are the seven candidates?

A presidential candidate must be an Austrian citizen, be eligible to vote in the National Assembly and be at least 35 years old on election day.

Members of ruling dynasties or families that reigned in the past are not eligible to run in the presidential election. This is to avoid a return to monarchy in Austria via the role of the Federal President.

Who can vote in these elections?

The only people allowed to vote in Austrian federal elections are Austrian citizens aged 16 or above.

That means foreigners – even those born and raised in Austria, are not entitled to choose a new president. Unless, of course, they take up Austrian citizenship (usually giving up their original citizenship).

Since Austria has a large proportion of foreigners in the population, many people will not be able to vote in these elections.

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

In fact, some 18 percent of residents (or 1.4 million people) in Austria over the age of 16 do not have the right to vote because they are not citizens, with the highest concentration of ineligible people in Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg.

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.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How does Austria’s presidential election work?

However, there are some smaller communities in Austria where the number of people without the right to vote is even higher.

In Jungholz in Tyrol, 66 percent of the population are not eligible, followed by 51 percent in Mittelberg in Vorarlberg. Kittsee in Burgenland and Wolfsthal in Lower Austria also have high proportions of Slovakian residents who cannot vote.

Austrian citizenship

Currently, in Austria, if someone wants to take up citizenship via naturalisation, they must undergo an extensive and expensive process and fulfil specific criteria.

Generally, there needs to be at least ten years of lawful and uninterrupted residence in Austria. But there are exceptions for those with citizenship of an EU or EEA country, those born in Austria, or married to an Austrian, for example.

READ ALSO: Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

The main hurdles, however, include having to give up any other citizenships, as Austria doesn’t allow for dual citizenship in naturalisation cases with few exceptions, and the payment of a high fee, which depends on the municipality, but could reach thousands of euros.

And though the topic of easing the requirements has come up several times in Austria, the country doesn’t seem any closer to changing its citizenship laws.

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

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