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New amendment to the Austrian Citizenship Law: Hundreds of Thousands Qualify for a European Passport

Michael Decker
Michael Decker

What recent changes have been made to Austria’s citizenship laws?

Austria’s citizenship laws and regulations have been updated in recent years with the intent to rectify a historical injustice against the victims of Nazism in Austria and their descendants. This has opened the doors for hundreds of thousands of descendants world-wide, who can now formally apply for Austrian citizenship and a European Union passport. In recent years, the option to obtain Austrian citizenship has become more feasible and straightforward than ever for numerous Israelis. This change stems from the amendment to the Austrian Citizenship Law (StbG) of 2019. As part of this amendment, the list of those eligible for Austrian citizenship among the Nazi persecuted in Austria and their descendants was significantly expanded.

What was the motivation behind this new law?

The new legislation aimed to rectify a long-standing historical injustice which denied descendants of those who had lived for generations in Austria the chance to renew their Austrian citizenship. The amendment to the Austrian citizenship law now enables many to apply for naturalization in Austria, marking a significant positive shift for many descendants of the Nazi persecuted living today in Israel and other countries worldwide.

New amendment to the Austrian Citizenship Law: Hundreds of Thousands Qualify for a European Passport

What benefits will successful applicants enjoy?

Those who exercise their right to citizenship in Austria under this pathway will benefit from favorable conditions throughout the process. Successfully completing the process grants an Austrian passport, considered one of the strongest passports within the European Union and globally. Holding an Austrian passport confers numerous benefits, including the right to reside anywhere in the European Union without restrictions, visa-free entry into the United States, subsidized education in Europe, and even opportunities for business ventures and preferred terms for real estate acquisitions in EU countries. Those who validate their entitlement to Austrian citizenship and passport through this route can avail these advantages without mastering the German language or any obligation to migrate to Austria or Europe.

Why was this law amended in the first place?

Until not long ago, obtaining Austrian citizenship for Jews and descendants of Nazi victims was a considerably complex task. The circle of those eligible for citizenship renewal in Austria from among the Nazi persecuted and their descendants was very limited. Additionally, Austrian authorities imposed restrictive requirements, such as proficiency in the German language and evidence of financial stability to sustain an independent life in Austria. A few years ago, discussions began in the Austrian parliament about amending the citizenship law, an initiative stemming from Austria’s recognition of its historical responsibility towards the victims of Nazi persecution in the country. Consequently, the amendment to the Austrian Citizenship Act was unanimously accepted in the Austrian parliament in October 2019.

Were there any further updates to this law?

After the law’s amendment, the complementary regulations to the citizenship law were also updated in April 2022. This update further expanded the circle of those eligible for citizenship under the new law, designed to reflect the fundamental principles of Austrian citizenship laws.

What are the main changes in the Austrian Citizenship Law?

The law in its current form provides a broad definition of who are considered victims of the Nazis, and their descendants (children, grandchildren, and sometimes even great-grandchildren) might be eligible for naturalization in Austria. This definition includes those who were Austrian citizens, citizens of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, or stateless individuals whose life center was within Austrian federal territory and left the country before May 15, 1955, due to fears or persecutions by the Nazis. The law also applies to Jews murdered in Austrian territories starting from January 30, 1933.

The eligibility under the new law extends to the descendants of the persecuted who qualify for citizenship. One of the most significant amendments to the new law is the cancellation of a gender bias practiced for many years in Austria. Previously, Austrian citizenship was passed only from father to son. This discriminatory provision has been abolished in the new amendment, and now all descendants of those persecuted in Austria (both male and female) might be eligible for citizenship.

Another limitation that was previously in effect and has been relaxed under the new law concerns permanent military service. In the past, serving in a foreign standing army completely eliminated the possibility of acquiring citizenship. As per the new amendment, past military service will not hinder the possibility of obtaining citizenship. However, it’s essential to note that one cannot acquire citizenship while serving in a foreign standing army, only after its completion. Also, anyone granted Austrian citizenship and subsequently electing to volunteer to the IDF or serve as a career officer, will have their citizenship revoked.

How does one become eligible for Austrian citizenship under the new law?

Initially, those interested in obtaining Austrian citizenship under the new law must prove their fundamental right to citizenship. To this end, they must present documents proving that they or their relatives were indeed persecuted by the Nazis in Austria during the qualifying period.

Potential proof documents include education certificates from Austrian institutions, marriage or divorce certificates in Austria, Austrian registration records, among others. If such documents are not readily available, they can potentially be located through archival research in Austria. Those who prove fundamental eligibility can formally apply for Austrian citizenship following the Austrian immigration authorities’ guidelines.

How long might the process take?

Although the Austrian authorities do not commit to a specific processing time for citizenship requests, our experience in dealing with the matter suggests that processing takes on average between 12-18 months from the full submission of the application. Enlisting the aid of a lawyer specializing in Austrian immigration laws can significantly streamline the process.

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