Nearly 75 years after the end of the Second World War, the Austrian Parliament has passed legislation which amends the Austrian Citizenship Act ("Staatsbürgerschaftsgesetz") in an effort to recognise Austria's historical responsibility for actions committed against its own citizens. This brings Austria's Citizenship Act in line with Germany's, which has a similar regulation.
Prior to its amendment, the Austrian Citizenship Act ("Citizenship Act") granted survivors of the National Socialist regime the right to re-apply for Austrian citizenship where it had been lost through persecution. In October 2019, the Austrian Parliament amended the Citizenship Act, introducing § 58c para. 1a, which allows descendants of those victims to acquire Austrian citizenship by way of a declaration ("Anzeige"), without giving up their current citizenship or nationality in return. The amended Citizenship Act entered into force on 1 September 2020 therewith opening the application process. We set out below the eligibility requirements and details about the application procedure.
First, the applicant has to be a direct descendant of a "persecuted ancestor". The scope of what constitutes a "direct descendant" is very wide and extends to children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, no matter what generation, as well as adopted children and their descendants. The applicant has to provide evidence of their direct relationship with the persecuted ancestor.
Second, the applicant has to demonstrate that their ancestor is a persecuted ancestor by providing documentary evidence. There is no specific list of documents an applicant must provide in order to establish that their ancestor was persecuted, and each case will be determined on its own merits. It is therefore important to provide the Austrian authorities with as much information as possible.
The application process commences with the filing of a completed declaration form with the competent authority, which is, for persons not born or residing in Austria, the Viennese regional government ("Wiener Landesregierung"), Municipal Department 35 ("Magistratsabteilung 35") ("MA35"). If the applicant is unable to engage directly with the MA35 in Austria, they can file the required documentation with the Austrian diplomatic representation in their country of residence, which will then forward the declaration including the supporting documents to MA35. The application process is free of charge.
The declaration form (for adults and minors) can either be completed online or at the Austrian embassy and must be submitted together with supporting documents. The supporting documents include personal documents and evidence with respect to the persecuted ancestors.
The Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs has – together with MA35 – developed an online questionnaire to facilitate the gathering of documents that need to be submitted in each individual case. It will indicate which documents exist in files and archival holdings of the Republic of Austria, or other Austrian institutions, and therefore do not need to be submitted. These institutions are, for example, the Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism ("Nationalfonds der Republik Österreich für die Opfer des Nationalsozialimus") or the General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism ("Allgemeiner Entschädigungsfonds für die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus").
MA35 procedure/local lawyers
Considering that the application process has only just opened, it is difficult to anticipate whether the MA35 will take a formalistic approach where applicants hold minimal or no documentation about their persecuted ancestor. In those cases, it will be necessary to search the archives mentioned above for relevant information proving citizenship and persecution.
While the application process can be progressed via the Austrian embassy, it might be worth involving local lawyers, particularly where interventions with the MA35 might be required. It may also accelerate the process if commenced directly with MA35. We are working closely with lawyers from a leading law firm in Austria who will be able to assist with any issues surrounding the application process.
Other citizenship programmes
Apart from assisting with the Austrian citizenship process, we do provide residency/citizenship programmes for our clients in Cyprus, Malta, Portugal and the Caribbean where we work closely with local lawyers who submit the applications on our behalf.
For further information, please contact Maria Patsalos or Heidi Walsh (qualified under Austrian law).