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

Vienna residents will elect the city council on Sunday but almost a third of them will not vote because they are foreigners, sparking criticism that the ballot is inherently unfair.

'I pay taxes in Austria': Anger as foreigners barred from Vienna council vote
Photo: Alisa Anton/Unsplash

Austria has one of the highest proportions of foreign residents in the EU. 

In the cosmopolitan capital, almost a third of 1.9 million residents are non-Austrian nationals and they do not have voting rights apart from local elections in their district.

Some of them could be found at a mock polling station on one of Vienna's main shopping streets set up by an anti-racism NGO to draw attention to their plight.

Among them is Moritz Knoll, who can't vote even though he was born in Austria.

“I can't vote because I've been a German citizen since birth,” he says, adding: “If you pay taxes to the Austrian state I think you should be able to vote.”

Also in line to cast a mock ballot is Kelly Ortega, a Colombian woman in her thirties.

Ortega has lived in Austria for nine years but says applying for Austrian citizenship would mean “losing a part of my identity”.

Austria only allows dual citizenship in exceptional cases so those who apply have to renounce their other nationality.

Sociologist Rainer Bauboeck said this was one reason why on average only seven foreigners out of 1,000 become Austrian citizens every year.

As a result, there are certain districts where only a minority of those of voting age are actually eligible to go to the polls.

Asked about this at a recent campaign event, Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPOe), said that there were other ways for foreigners to get involved in civic life.

Ludwig, who is the overwhelming favourite to win re-election, told AFP that in any case the question of voting rights for foreigners was “a decision that rests with central government”.

'A precious asset'

The conditions for becoming an Austrian citizen have turned into a veritable obstacle course in recent decades, particularly under governments containing the anti-immigration far-right Freedom Party (FPOe).

The income requirements alone would disqualify 60 percent of blue-collar female workers if they had to apply.

The fees to have one's application considered run to thousands of euros. A good level of German is required as well as at least ten years' residence.

And being born in Austria makes no difference at all, no matter how long one's family may have been settled in the country.

The SPOe, along with the Greens and the liberal NEOS party, have said they would be in favour of loosening the requirements. 

But the conservative People's Party (OeVP), the senior partner in the current governing coalition, is against this.

“Austrian citizenship is a precious asset,” OeVP Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said in a statement last year.

He said the current system promotes integration.

'Problem child'

The mock polling station was organised by the SOS Mitmensch NGO, which says that the city's “representatives are losing legitimacy” given that large swathes of residents are ignored.

That figure has doubled over the past 20 years and now stands at an all-time high.

SOS Mitmensch points out that well-heeled districts with fewer immigrants end up over-represented on the city council. 

“That has consequences on the wellbeing and feeling of belonging” of non-Austrian residents, says SOS Mitmensch's Gerlinde Affenzeller.

“In concrete terms 30.1 percent of voting-age people in Vienna are not able to vote because they don't have an Austrian passport. And we are drawing attention to this democratic deficit.”

Judith Kohlenberger, researcher into integration issues at Vienna's University of Economics and Business, says the injustice is inherent in the fact that the city would not have been able to function during the coronavirus lockdown in the spring had it not been for foreign delivery workers, supermarket cashiers and care workers.

“At school the children in these families learn civics lessons but these are just theoretical because they've never seen their parents queue up at a polling station on a Sunday,” she says.

Back at the mock polling station, Tufan Yildiz, recently arrived from his native Germany, heads into the booth after Ortega to mark his ballot paper, “unfortunately not for real”.

“It's like in a family: if one sibling is always neglected, there's a good chance they'll become a problem child,” he says.

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The vocabulary you need to understand the Austrian citizenship process

Applying for citizenship in Austria can be a lengthy and daunting process - and understanding the lingo is like learning a new language in itself. These are the top words and phrases you're likely to hear along the way.

The vocabulary you need to understand the Austrian citizenship process

If you’ve lived in Austria a while and plan to live here for the foreseeable future, you may be considering applying for Austrian citizenship.

Having an Austrian passport offers numerous benefits, from being able to live in the country permanently to being able to vote in Austrian elections – but for many, the process of getting hold of that coveted document can feel like an overwhelming prospect. 

If you’re feeling a bit stuck, the good news is that applying for Austrian citizenship isn’t as complicated as it may first appear – even if it’s not the easiest project to undertake. Once you wrap your head around the bureaucratic lingo, you’ll be well on your way to sending off that all-important application and – eventually – becoming a naturalised Austrian. 


OK, if you’re applying for citizenship you probably already know this word, but it’s an essential one to have up your sleeve if you want to become Austrian. Die Einbürgerung basically means “naturalisation” and it describes the process of becoming an Austrian citizen (or Bürger) after a period of residence in the country.

If you want to get the ball rolling on a citizenship application, your first port of call will be your local Abteilung Einwanderung und Staatsbürgerschaft (immigration and citizenship department), who will give you an appointment for an Erstinformationgespräch (initial consultation) and then send you the application forms. In Vienna, this office is the MA 35. 


Die Staatsangehörigkeit is your nationality, which you’ll be asked about when you apply for citizenship. In most cases, you will be expected to give up your existing nationality in order to naturalise as Austrian.

Mehrstaatigkeit / Doppelte Staatsbürgerschaft 

Mehrstaatigkeit: the holding of multiple nationalities, is heavily restricted under Austrian law in general. But there are exceptions where it is allowed.

To make things simpler, this is often referred to as doppelte Staatsbürgerschaft – or dual nationality. In theory though, it is possible to hold even more than two passports, if the person who does so falls under a legal exception. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: When is dual citizenship allowed in Austria?

Although dual nationality is restricted in Austria, marriage between an Austrian and a foreigner can often result in children having dual citizenship. (Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash)


Here’s where things get a little bit technical: if you do want to apply for citizenship, the law states that you will have to fulfil a certain number of Voraussetzungen, or conditions. These include things like a certain period of residence in the country, a valid immigration status, knowledge of German and the Austrian way of life, and having a clean criminal record. 


If you’ve been granted an Austrian Aufenthaltstitel (residence permit), this one is likely to be familiar to you. Der Aufenthalt refers to your residence in Austria – and you’ll need to prove a certain number of years of it if you want to be eligible for citizenship. In many cases this is 10 years. Although there are some categories of people who can apply for it before then, such as EU citizens or people who were born in Austria without Austrian citizenship.

Of course, if you want to be eligible for citizenship you won’t just have to prove that you’ve lived here, but also that you’ve lived here legally. In other words, that you have some kind of Aufenthaltsrecht (right of residence) in the country. 

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


Another key condition of getting Austrian citizenship is proving your Deutsche Sprachkenntnisse – or knowledge of German. For most people, that involves getting a B1 certificate, though if you have proof you attended school or university in Austria, this may suffice. 

READ ALSO: TEST: Is your German good enough for Austrian citizenship?

Einen Antrag stellen 

You’re not likely to naturalise as Austrian if you don’t do this: einen Antrag stellen basically means submitting an application, and it’s a key part of the process.


The documents you’ll need to submit will depend on your life situation, but pretty much everyone will need to submit one of these. Der Geburtsurkunde is your birth certificate, and if it’s in a foreign language it will may need to be translated into German. Some authorities may accept English ones, but you should check this with your local authority.


One of the main criterion for getting your Austrian citizenship is demonstrating a basic knowledge of Austrian politics, history and way of life. You’ll likely have to prove this by taking an Einbürgerungstest – or citizenship test. 

Sicherung des Lebensunterhalts

One major benefit of becoming Austrian is being able to rely on the welfare state, for example by claiming long-term jobseekers’ allowance – but Austria would rather you didn’t. For that reason, you’ll have to prove that you can provide financially for you and your family without relying on the state, which is known as the “eigenständige Sicherung des Lebensunterhalts”. In most cases, a work contract and confirmation of your living costs will suffice. 

READ ALSO: How the ÖVP wants to make it harder for foreigners in Austria to access benefits


If you’ve lived in Austria a while, you’ll know that insurance is held in very high esteem – and the authorities will want to see that you’ve taken that on board before you become a naturalised Austrian. In other words, you’ll likely need health insurance, care insurance, insurance against long-term illness, and pension insurance. (The first three are generally included in your statutory health insurance.)

For your pension, you’ll probably need to get hold of the Versicherungsverlauf, which is a confirmation of all your contributions so far. If you haven’t got too many, don’t worry too much: this is generally discretionary and there’s a lot of debate over whether freelancers require it at all. 

Nachweis über…

This is likely to come up a lot when you get sent a checklist of documents to provide. Nachweis über simply means “proof of” and could refer to anything you need to prove, from your current rent to your current salary or level of German.

Your Austrian health insurance will pay a portion of your salary if you’re off sick for a longer period of time, and also manages your long-term care insurance if necessary. You may need to prove your contributions if applying for citizenship. Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay


One of the final hurdles you’ll face in the citizenship application process is a criminal background check, where the authorities will try to find out if you’ve committed any crimes that would bar you from become Austrian. Ideally, you’ll want to show complete “Straffreiheit”: a clean criminal record showing with no prosecutions for any crimes – or pending charges, either in Austria or in another EU member state.


Nothing in life is free – and that unfortunately includes applying for Austrian citizenship. At present, the Gebühren – or fees – are set at €700 per person and you will need to pay it when you submit your application. You’ll also have to pay about €76 for your actual passport document. The federal €700 fee is the same around the country, although some states may have different rates for the passport fee, as it covers administration.


If you have to give up your previous citizenship in order to obtain an Austrian passport, you should receive an Einbürgerungszusicherung from the authorities beforehand. This is a document assuring you of your right to Austrian citizenship, provided you renounce your current one. 


At the end of this arduous process, this is the document you’ve been waiting for: the Einbürgerungsurkunde is your certificate of naturalisation. 

Österreichische Reisepass

Once you have your Einbürgerungsurkunde, the world is your oyster – or at least, the 150 or so countries you can visit visa-free with your Austrian passport.

Alper Yilmaz poses with his Austrian passport at his cafe restaurant in Vienna, Austria, on October 31, 2018. – Alper Yilmaz is in little doubt as to where he feels at home. “My homeland is Austria, Vienna,” he says.
(Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Be aware that you may get offered a choice between a Reisepass (passport) and Personalausweis (ID card) once you’re naturalised – but you are technically entitled to both.