10 things I’ve learned about becoming an Austrian citizen

December 8, 2020

For many years I have thought of applying for the Austrian citizenship. While the frustration of a growing political right-wing and not having the right to vote, the thought of needing to renounce my own nationality kept me from taking this step. So in 2010, I had decided to still wait in the hope that Austria would allow double citizenship one day. But 9 years later, that day still hadn’t come. And with the right-wing ruling at the top of the government alongside a more populist growing party, the OVP, my frustration grew bigger. 15 years down the Austrian road, and still having no right to vote but at a district level, I decided to apply for citizenship. With this step taken, I thought the process would be a bureaucratic process, nothing less.

Austria is a “bunte” country, as they describe it in the books they give you to learn from for the exam. And they actually put the word “bunt” in quote marks, which is already a bit distressing. The front page has a picture of Kickl, at that time minister for the interior. That already gave me the chills. Not a good start.

The book describes the country as a welcoming place, a diverse society in which foreigners can live as equals. Not my impression when going through the process.

Here is what this journey taught me.

1. A not so welcoming first encounter. 

You go to the MA35 for a first encounter where you get assigned a counselor who will be the person to process your application. While this step is a formality necessary to get your basic information and inform you of the steps, I was surprised to learn how they talk to you. Unlike other applicants, I know, I landed on a not so nice person and I got the very blunt cold truth of how the administration works. It was not a peer to peer talk. I was made to feel like they were doing me a favor to become Austrian. While I recognize the values and the economic stability of the country, being met as an equal was not among these values there. Bottom line, I went home crying, feeling small and unimportant. I decide to fight it though and kept on.

2. Your financial situation.

Before taking this first meeting, prepare for knowing a bit about your financial situation in the past 6 years, because they will bluntly ask. Which is fair, but as I said, my counselor was not the nicest person. And I was not ready for it. Since I was an entrepreneur and a divorcee, I not only learned that an unstable income can decrease your chances at citizenship, being divorced also implied making contact with your ex, because you have to show proof that in the last 6 years you, either as a single had 940 EUR net left per month, after all  costs (rent, insurance, electricity, and all that jazz), or as a couple you had 1400 EUR left on your account. I don’t know about you, but couples with families showing 1400 EUR net still left on your account, after fix costs, might be an even bigger challenge. Can even Austrians show proof of that? Luckily, no children in my case, so at least less bureaucratic and challenging. I was asked about my relationship status with my ex, if we ended things on good terms. While this was not the case and was a bit of a private question that made me feel uneasy, she said “ well, sorry, but if you ended it on bad terms, it’s not my problem” and either I contact him to get his tax declarations as well, or otherwise there’s no chance to qualify. She could have said all this nicer, but as I said, I was not as lucky to get someone that actually welcomed people or at least managed to stay neutral.

3. Get a lawyer!

I cannot stress this enough. If your case proves to be a bit complicated, get a lawyer! At my second meeting, where I brought all the necessary documents for the application, I brought a lawyer too, because I wanted to have a peer to peer conversation, not top-down. And my God, what a difference that made. She actually even shook my hand and for the first time looked me in the eyes. And yes, I did contact my ex, I did get his tax declarations and all required invoices, but I didn’t enjoy it.

4. Bureaucracy at its best.

After giving in all paperwork, a pile which became so big that I needed a filing dossier to fit all of it in, they go through their own check. One particular document that showed a “gap” was my CV. In it, you have to list all years of your entire life, literally, from where you went to kindergarten and even before. all the way to the present moment. When I came to Austria in 2004, I also had to put in the Meldezettel history to prove my residence. And in the first year, I did not stay all the time in Austria. At that time, Romania was not in the EU, so I could only stay for 3 months at a time. That summer I stayed for 3 months and went back, but I forgot to de-list from the residence address. Which meant for them that I stayed illegally if I didn’t show  any proof of jobs or insurance. So a letter came, asking me for proof of medical insurance. And keep in mind, the Austrian citizenship requires looking back at your last 10 years, not 15. But they discovered a flaw in my application, so they went for it. Luckily I kept my old passports, and I could prove with the stamps, that I did go back to Romania, so I copied and printed those pages, sent them to the lawyer together with a written and signed explanation of what happened during that time. 3 weeks later, I received again a letter saying it was not enough and further proof was necessary. Without giving specifics as to what would help to solve the matter at hand. Don’t bother to write emails. They never reply. So I went there to discuss the matter and inquire what else I could bring. There, I was sent to another office. Each paper, depending on which department it falls under, gets reviewed by another person, it seems. I explained the case and the woman was quite understanding and she was also clueless herself as to why they had insisted on more paperwork. After that, I never received any further questions about it. So, it seems they were flexible enough to let it be.

5. Prepare for a long process.

The application process takes from 9 to 12 months minimum. If your case is easy. From other stories I’ve heard about, people from non-EU countries have it worse. It can take years. So my advice, if you want the process to go smoother (in the case you see some irregularities in your documents that might prove to reveal some “gaps”), get a lawyer. While it is not cheap, you get at least a fair processing. I applied in October 2019. And now, in September I have received my approval and finally, have my certificate of citizenship and passport.Yuhuu! Renouncing my own citizenship, while it was less bureaucratic, it was not cheap either. 600 EUR cash and no good-bye’s.

6. An expensive process.

All in all, I have spent about 2500 EUR to get the citizenship, but it’s done.

7. Austrian citizenship has a filter.

Acquiring Austrian citizenship is not the easiest or nicest process. Putting aside the bureaucracy, financially, it can be a burden for those who don’t earn enough. I’ve learned that the Austrian citizenship is one of the most restrictive citizenships in the EU. In Germany, it costs 250 EUR, in France 50 EUR fee, in Austria 1040 EUR. And I’m not including some other small fees that need to be covered, which adds up to another 100-150 EUR, depending on the country. All the required criteria that need to be met makes the Austrian citizenship quite exclusive and restrictive. People of lower means don’t stand a chance if they have to show three good and steady financial years in which they’ve earned enough to have 940 EUR or 1400 EUR left on the account every month.

8. Getting the citizenship can be a risk to become stateless.

Due to the past events in 2017 when it was discovered that many hadn’t renounced their own nationality after receiving Austrian citizenship, Austria changed the process. So, before they give you the Urkunde/ the certificate of citizenship, you first have to renounce your own citizenship. So in between, you are kind of stateless, which is not a good feeling. Yes, you still keep your current passport and can still travel, but you have to return it within 6 months (in my case). So if anything goes wrong, if you don’t pay your car fines or do something worse in this time, you might end up with a retraction of the first approved citizenship application. And then you’re screwed. So stay away from felonies. Because  I read it happened to someone not so long ago and she became stateless. And that’s a whole new story…

9. Renouncing citizenship.

Leaving my Romanian citizenship behind doesn’t make me feel less Romanian. I do not connect a passport to my roots. I know what I’m made of and that will always stay with me. I am Austrian now, and I feel Viennese and European at the same time. Exercising my human right to vote is what is important to me. If it is linked to a citizenship, then I’ll switch passports, yes. But I will not forget where I come from.

10. Yes, I’m still a migrant.

So, while I am statistically still categorized as a migrant, being an Austrian with a migrant background gives me the right to vote, finally. And I won’t be voting for OVP or FPÖ. lol

Austria is a beautiful country and I am proud to live in it as a European citizen. Its people are indeed very diverse and those I know live up to the values of diversity, acceptance, tolerance. While the process did not make me feel welcome, I do rejoice in the power of society to live peacefully, equally, and respectfully. Austria is a country that values its people, and while they don’t always show it well, our voice matters and can bring change with or without the right to vote.
As a new citizen of this country, I welcome diversity and its advantages and I will do my best to make this visible to the world.