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BREXIT

Article 50 Card: Long delays continue in Vienna as deadline looms

As the New Year's Eve deadline looms for the Article 50 Card applications that are needed for Brits to secure their residency in Austria, some British citizens are still waiting for essential residency paperwork to be processed.

Street in Vienna
Campaigners have told The Local that authorities in Vienna have been slow to process post-Brexit residency applications. Photo: Anelale Nájera/Unsplash

As part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, British people that were living in Austria before the end of the transition period on 31st December 2020 can apply for the Article 50 Card to retain their residency rights. 

The deadline is New Year’s Eve but some people in Vienna are still waiting for their cards – despite starting the application process several months ago.

Emails and calls to MA35 (the City of Vienna immigration department) by concerned applicants are also reportedly being ignored, according to the British in Austria group which represents the rights of Britons living in Austria. The group confirmed to The Local that the issue of delays appears to be a problem specific to the capital city.

Representative of British in Austria Mike Bailey told The Local the group is being contacted by worried British citizens who are still waiting for their applications to be processed.

Mike said: “The most recent cases are unemployed people who haven’t received a card and the wait is causing them further stress.

“Their status is covered until the conclusion of the process, but if they were to be rejected there is little time to reapply with new information if an appeal fails.”

EXPLAINED: What Brits with EU partners need to know about returning to live in UK

The Local approached the City of Vienna about the issues, and a spokesperson for Vienna Vice Mayor Christoph Wiederkehr told The Local: “We are endeavouring to process the applications as quickly as possible and ask all British [citizens] who have not yet submitted an application to do so immediately.”

The spokesperson added that as long as applications are submitted by the New Year’s Eve deadline, they can still be processed.

“If there have been delays in processing, we apologise for the inconvenience,” she added.

The British Embassy in Vienna told The Local that delays to Article 50 Card applications is their number one priority right now.

As for whether the delays will have a concrete impact on Brits’ access to rights in Austria, an embassy spokesperson said: “We have raised the issue of delays in processing applications with the Austrian authorities, who have assured us that the Bestätigung über die Antragstellung certificate you receive when making your application will continue to be accepted as evidence of Withdrawal Agreement rights until a new residency card is granted.

“The rights assigned under the Withdrawal Agreement are assumed to apply until a final decision is taken on granting or not granting an Article 50 card. Again, the most important thing you can do is apply well before the deadline.”

Applying for the Article 50 Card is mandatory for British people that want to retain their right to live and work in Austria post-Brexit and do not have another form of right of residence (such as another EU citizenship). It replaces all previous residency permits held by British people in Austria.

The latest figures show 7,922 people applied for the card in the first nine months of 2021, but approximately 3,600 Britons in Austria have not applied.

The application process for the Article 50 Card opened on January 4th, 2021 and there have been reports of problems since the beginning of the year.

In the first couple of months many people across the country experienced delays as a result of Covid-19 restrictions and closed offices, although these issues have since been resolved.

In February, there were also reports of some British citizens in Austria wrongly having their benefits payments suspended due to misunderstandings of the new post-Brexit rules, as reported by The Local.

The suspension of benefits went against the Withdrawal Agreement and resulted in former British Ambassador to Austria Leigh Turner asking the Austrian Federal Government to intervene.

The Local also recently reported on concerns from British in Austria that some long-term British residents and spouses in Austria might not be fully aware that applying for the new card is mandatory.

How does the Article 50 Card application process work?

For people that live outside of Vienna, Article 50 applications take place at the local Bezirkshauptmannschaft or Magistrat where a person lives (Hauptwohnsitz). 

In Vienna, applications are processed at MA35 in Arndtstrasse in the 12th district.

In most cases, an appointment has to be made in advance and proof of status will have to be provided, such as a job contract, proof of self-employment, proof of address and ID.

In some cases, additional checks will be made to determine the eligibility of an applicant. Applicants also have to pay a fee (see below for more information), provide fingerprints and a passport photo.

After applying, each applicant should be issued with an official confirmation of application. If the confirmation is not provided, British in Austria advises people to request it.

The British in Austria website has an updated list of offices across the country where an application for the Article 50 Card can be made. You can find the page here.

Typically, the process takes a couple of weeks from lodging the application to receiving the Article 50 Card, but it can take longer in Vienna as there are more British people living in the capital than elsewhere in Austria.

The first Article 50 Cards were issued to British citizens in a special ceremony in January attended by Ambassador Turner and Vice Mayor Wiederkehr.

Turner retired from the post of British Ambassador in September but will continue to live in Vienna and recently applied for the Article 50 Card.

How much does the application cost?

The costs of applying for the Article 50 Card ranges from €0 to around €75.

The difference will depend on how long someone has lived in Austria and whether further documentation is required.

The standard fee is €61.50 but this is waived if a person already has a permanent residency status in Austria that was obtained pre-Brexit.

Permanent residency is gained after living in Austria for five years and meeting the conditions for a residency permit under EU law.

Useful links

British in Austria

City of Vienna – Immigration and Citizenship (MA 35)

Austrian Federal Government

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BREXIT

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”

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