A first visit to the UK and time for a reboot!

An aerial view of London from flight OS461 on 26 October 2022

A fortnight ago I travelled with my wife and children to the UK to visit my family. I saw my mother and stepfather for the first time since 2019. It was also my first trip as an Austrian, and first time since the post that kicked off this blog. The trip gave me a new impetus to update a lot of the content here. A lot of content previously related to naturalisation as an (still) EU citizen to being Austrian.

Since naturalisation in 2018, the process has changed a lot. Citizens not covered by the Withdrawal Agreement (ie. those legally resident since after 31.12.2020 (i.e. the end of the Transition Period)) now have vastly more restricted rights of employment and residence.

Even those covered by the Withdrawal Agreement have had to apply for new residence permits. In 2021 britishinaustria.net worked hard to help get information out to British citizens in Austria about applying. We spent hundreds of hours in outreach to people from all across Austria. We helped assist in a number of tricky cases, handled contacts with MA35 and the Ministry for the Interior (BMI).

However, this blog remains about naturalisation. I will be updating posts accordingly to reflect people’s different experiences since Brexit on naturalising. Welcome, or if you are a returning reader, welcome back!

How many Britons have naturalised since Brexit?

A segment on this morning’s Ö1 Morgenjournal (Austria’s “Today on Radio 4” equivalent) mentioned that a new study by a Berlin-based researcher has highlighted and increase in British citizens moving to the EU since the 2016 referendum. It mentioned some statistics – for Austria the pre-referendum naturalisations by Britons could be counted on the fingers or one or possibly two hands.

However, in 2018, the figure rose to 44. For 2019, according to Statistik Austria, the figure was 96. The figures for 2019 are available at https://www.statistik.at/wcm/idc/idcplg?IdcService=GET_PDF_FILE&RevisionSelectionMethod=LatestReleased&dDocName=024814.

It will be interesting to see how the statistics for 2020 and 2021 develop, with particular interest on the effect of the new §58c StbG provision that enters into force on 01.09.2020, which will allow Austrians who fled the Nazi regime to the UK, as well as their descendents up to two generations removed to take up their citizenship without having to revoke their British citizenship.

Disadvantages of Naturalisation?

I recently asked the question through the Facebook page for this blog about whether anyone had identified any disadvantages from naturalising as an Austrian citizen. I disregarded the issue of having to renounce your previous citizenship(s) unless it could be proven that doing so was not realistic or so adverse that it would be more reasonable for you to retain your previous citizenship (this argument doesn’t apply for those naturalising from previously being British).

Continue reading “Disadvantages of Naturalisation?”

Timeline of Naturalisation

Naturalisation timeline
Naturalisation timeline based on my experience

If your experience differed from mine, please leave a comment. The current COVID-19 situation seems to have impacted some procedural steps both here in Austria and in the UK.

A few notes on Zivildienst

Photo by Mateusz Dach from Pexels

From a contact considering naturalisation, but who is below the cut-off age for military service or alternative civilian service (Zivildienst), I have received some information about civilian service. He has enquired whether whether teaching jobs can be considered as performing alternative civilian service, since many kindergartens use the services of Zivildiener (our kindergarten is one such example).

Unfortunately it can’t. Furthermore, unless the school(s) you teach at keep(s) you nominally on the staff lists for a couple of hours, you may not be able to retain your position at the school, due to the fact the Zivildienst is for the equivalent of a full-time position. The duration of Zivildienst is nine months, although there is a possibility to voluntarily extend it for a further three months. In this case the extra months are paid better than the normal Zivildienst pay.

The monthly pay for a Zivildiener as of 01.01.2020 is EUR 346.70 per month. However there is Verpflegungsgeld, to ensure that you have enough money for food, if Naturalverpflegung (i.e. meals provided is not offered). Naturalverpflegung consists of breakfast and one hot meal and one cold meal (with the hot meal as either lunch or dinner).

In some cases you are provided with accommodation too (i.e. residential /live-in jobs) on otherwise you can apply for financial assistance towards accommodation costs. In cases of financial support being required, this extends to spouses (i.e. by marriage or a civil partnership) as well as children, but not say a girlfriend/boyfriend.

Further information in German: https://www.zivildienst.gv.at/103/start.aspx

Note: h/t Friedrich Bruckner for reminding me that employers are obliged to keep your old job open for you for up to one month after the end of Zivildienst (and military service).

So what now?

Austrian Passport

Today, with the Conservatives sweeping to power with a clear majority, there has been considerable renewed interest in this blog. This morning alone, I received more enquiries from anxious Britons seeking advice about parts of the process, so I will be working with others to also look at parts of the process that might vary from one Bundesland to another.

In addition, I will also be working on transforming this site from one that deals primarily with my experience in Vienna to one that covers the experience in Austria’s Bundesländer.

I will also look into the amendment to the Austrian Citizenship Act that enters into effect from 2020 that will allow the descendents of those who fled the Nazis to now retake their Austrian citizenship without needing to renounce their previous citizenship (§ 58c enters into force in September 2020).

I will also be trying to make the blog more accessible in terms of trying to create a path for those naturalising to follow as a sort of checklist, updating expected costs, how to complete various steps in the procedure and make the blog more helpful for users.

The British Nationality Act 1981 – Renunciation of British Citizenship not possible by a minor

The British Nationality Act 1981 is the counterpart in English law to the Austrian Staatsbürgerschaftsgesetz 1985. The two laws need to be viewed in concert when naturalising as an Austrian and in particular with regard to renunciation of British citizenship. When I naturalised with my son, my case officer was unaware of the fact that a minor was unable to renounce their citizenship, so I ended up also having to appeal to the discretion of the Secretary of State to allow a renunciation for my son. When this was refused, the case officer was satisfied that I had tried everything in my power to renounce my son’s citizenship.

Since families are likely to be in a similar position, if they are naturalising with children, and make, like myself have their reasons for wanting their children to also take Austrian citizenship with them (in my case, I argued that in light that my son would have to be resident in the UK in order to ever vote or to be able to pass on his citizenship only held by descent through me, and therefore that his not taking Austrian citizenship with me at the time I applied would cause unnecessary disadvantage to him as he grows up, I therefore had his application added to mine). 

The important parts of the British Nationality Act 1981 to be aware of in this regard (and to furnish to your case officer once you have a Zusicherungsbescheid) are:

Part I: Section 1 (acquisition by birth or adoption) or Section 2 (in the case of the child having been born outside the UK and being British from birth by descent). Section 12 (renunciation) stipulates the conditions under which a person may renounce their British citizenship. In the case of a minor, unable to renounce, it is advisable to check whether Austrian citizenship is granted contingent on the minor reaching majority (e.g. say child A naturalises at 14, and cannot therefore renounce their British citizen by dint of being a minor, but their file for naturalisation remains open until they are an adult (ie. 18 unless already married or in a civil partnership prior to the age of 18)), at which point they then would have to renounce their British citizenship.

Suggestion: ask your case officer about the possibility to sign a declaration that you understand that renunciation from British citizenship is not possible until the age of 18 and that you would request citizenship is awarded (verliehen) contingent on having to renounce British citizenship upon reaching majority.

In the case that your child(ren) is/are substantially below the age of majority, explain that the British Nationality Act 1981 does not allow renunciation by minors, and therefore a lack of intent to renounce cannot be proven to exist, and renunciation is not possible at the child(ren)’s age. Already at the Infotermin or Antragstermin ask the case officer about how long the file is kept open for in the case of a minor unable to renounce. If the duration for holding the file open means that the file is shut before the child(ren) has/have reached adulthood, ask them to confirm whether the child will therefore not be required to renounce citizenship upon reaching the age of 18 (or upon marriage/entry into a civil partnership, where that happens before the age of 18).

In relation to the awarding of Austrian citizenship, Article 20 para. 3 no. 2 StBG is important:

(3) Die Staatsbürgerschaft, deren Verleihung zugesichert wurde, ist zu verleihen, sobald der Fremde

2. nachweist, daß ihm die für das Ausscheiden aus seinem bisherigen Staatsverband erforderlichen Handlungen nicht möglich oder nicht zumutbar waren.

Do I need to change my Anmeldebescheinigung or Bescheinigung des Daueraufenthalts if I naturalise?

I’ve decided to give this question a separate answer in light of the fact that there seems to be some confusion still, possibly arising from the fact that people are mixing information between naturalising as an Austrian and naturalising with another EU citizenship that allows British citizens to retain their British citizenship as well as taking another EU citizenship for which they are also eligible.

The answer is simple. If you take Austrian citizenship you no longer have either the Anmeldebescheinigung (this is part of ensuring you this ability to exercise the freedom of movement), which you get after three months of living in Austria. If you have done a Bescheinigung des Daueraufenthalts you turn in this form in any case. If you naturalise as an Austrian you surrender whichever of these you hold when you become an Austrian citizen (for pre 2006 arrivals your Meldezettel or Bestätigung der Meldung covers the Anmeldebescheinigung).

If you are taking an additional citizenship of another EU country to supplement your British citizenship, the advice is to update your registration to reflect your new status i.e. amending your current residence documents to reflect your supplementary nationality.

This advice was confirmed by the HM Embassy in consultation with the Innenministerium as per the tweet exchange below.

The Highs & Lows of Naturalisation – Part 1: The Highs

The author on Wien Heute

From the outset, I have always advocated that naturalisation is a deeply personal issue, and is heavily dependent on personal circumstances. My own personal first foray into looking into naturalisation and becoming an Austrian citizen, back in 2016 was to attend an event about taking Austrian citizenship held by a lawyer specialising in the field. Granted at that evening the audience were not only Britons, but in the last two and a half years the issue has become one of a hitherto unknown importance for Britons. At a live chat on Facebook that the well-meaning British ambassador oversaw, following on from a similar chat by an FCO staff member earlier that year(2017), it soon became apparent that the prime motivation for naturalisation would be to have certainty in uncertain times.

For me there was never the option to exercise my claim to another EU citizenship – those who had that opportunity, I fully supported in their intention to take an additional citizenship, and asked others considering it and waiting and saying why they haven’t acted upon it – the reasons were often their personal ones, which I can accept. Others waivered as the emotional bond of British citizenship and losing it was insurmountable for them. I have no problem with that – it is just one of the many factors that makes naturalisation and renouncing the citizenship of the country of one’s birth a deeply personal decision. Some acquaintances branded me a traitor (and not in an ironic or humourous way). They of course are welcome to their own view, but that won’t change the fact that I naturalised for me and for the welfare of my family.

Having blogged about the Referendum that led to the Decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union from it being called and discovering that I would not be eligible to vote in it, through to waking up on my 39th birthday as a father of a three month old son, unsure of what the future would hold. Leaving the UK from a family party in March 2017, I resolved that I would not enter the UK as a British citizen again. I still have not visited again since. The journey has been a roller-coaster over the last two years, and one which for Britons in the EU will continue to be so for a while yet, although there are promising signs that Austria will be enacting law to underpin the recent messages from the Foreign Minister (see below) and the Federal Chancellery that suggest the future might be more certain again for the approx. 11,000 Britons in Austria, after a slightly alarming remark from Andreas Pölzl in the Innenministerium.

I’ll be following the legislation that comes in on its passage through parliament. I hope for Britons in Austria that the passage is a swift one, without any delays or unpleasant surprises, and that the outcome is a satisfactory one.

The Highs of Naturalisation

In moments of doubt it was sometimes difficult to keep on going, although there were definitely high points along the way.

Contributing to the debate

Part of my motivation for this blog was to also resolve the many half-truths that were circulating about “dual citizenship/nationality”, the approach of “revoke and resume” and to back up my arguments with references from Austrian law. Similarly, in a time when many Britons felt more uncertain about their future than before, I wanted to reassure those considering the route towards Austrian citizen. The experience, particularly with MA35 and attending townhall meetings organised with DExEU and Embassy staff, has also helped me to deepen my interest in politics, to ask incisive questions and put “experts” on the spot.

Media Appearances

As my blog has gained traction, started to be read by a bigger audience and positive feedback has been received, there has been a knock-on effect, and I have been asked to speak on television and radio on a national level. The unexpected positive side of this has been that people I had lost contact with have got back in touch – they heard me on the radio, saw me on television and it motivated them to get back in touch.

It has proven a fascinating insight into the workings of the media and how news is made. I’ve learned what the media wants to hear, how to articulate soundbites in German to suit the needs of the broadcasters and got to understand about being interviewed on various subjects, speaking passionately and how to get to the soundbite that the media wish to have. I’ve appeared on television, in print, on the radio, in English and German, and have of coursed blogged the entire process.

Incidentally this post was partially written when I appeared on a segment in ORF’s Wien Heute on 16 January 2019.

Old and New friendships

I’ve made new friends and acquaintances – contact has been established to and with other Britons in similar circumstances, others wanting informal advice – I realise of course that the advice I give cannot be a substitute for professional advice, although often reassurance is often needed on a human level, and some of the hurdles that others face in going through the same process have been overcome through some suggestions (e.g. helping them with drafting the CV that they need, checking that it corresponds directly to the times on their Versicherungsdatenauszug). And of course, old friendships has been rekindled, contact made after several years again – it is a good feeling not to be a Karteileiche in someone’s phone contact list!

The Milestones

As each stage of the process was completed, there was a definite buzz – each letter, positive e-mail, and appointment negotiated were milestones. But there were other smaller milestones too – not just the Antragstermin, the passing of the test, the Zusicherungsbescheid being granted, the ceremony, the passport arriving in the post and last but by no means least the renunciation. There were other milestones, such as being told that no more papers were required, that the investigative procedure was concluded, that they were satisfied with everything.

The Achievement

When I attended an event about naturalisation given by a lawyer, one of the takeaways was that from Antragstermin to naturalisation it was usually 15-18 months, and that with a lawyer it might be typically cut from 9-12 months. In my case, in the end, the wait from Infotermin to Antragstermin excluded, it took eight and a half months. In my wife’s case as a third country citizen naturalising, due to problems admitted by MA35 that they had “difficulties” in 2014-15 her process took nearly four years. Fortunately, I also managed for my son to naturalise with me, and thereby for my twins, born just a few weeks after my becoming Austrian, that they are Austrian from birth, entitling them, should they ever wish to naturalise as British to exercise a Beibehaltungsrecht to remain Austrian in the process.

Finishing off the renunciation process

Altes Rathaus, Wipplingerstrasse
Home of the Magistratisches Bezirksamt

At the start of August, I received a note in the letterbox to say that I had a package waiting. I went to the collection point and it turned out to be my returned renunciation documents back from Liverpool. My British citizenship was officially renounced on 24 July 2018, and my son’s application was rejected, as I had suspected would be the case when I wrote the covering letter, being rejected on the simple and categorical grounds of his being a minor as set out in the British Nationality Act of 1981. In addition, in a superfluity of modal verbs the letter advised that I “should return any valid travel documents that I may still have“. With the legal second having been named, I duly filed my British passports in a safe place (since they contain visa information that might be useful for applications for future visas), although they are of course no longer valid for travel. There is sadly no option for having them cancelled and returned. 

I went into MA35 shortly thereafter to deposit this new information with them, but the specialist person I had been advised to see was away. Her colleague took my forms (a copy of the applicant’s RN form stamped as registered is what MA35 required to be able to conclude my process, including the removal of “British” from my nationality on my Melderegisterauszug, so that I was formally only listed as Austrian (this was important for reasons that will only become apparent in another future post). For my son, I deposited the correspondence regarding the rejection of his renunciation, which her colleague would look at upon her return and promptly went to the Altes Rathaus to have my Personalausweis issued.

I had already got my Austrian passport through the post and the ID card arrived a couple of days after ordering it in the same way. I’ve never got the UK’s opposition to ID cards, which seem to simplify a lot of day-to-day tasks – a credit card-sized document which allows me to get a phone contract, sign for a parcel and many other errand-related tasks, and which can even be used within the Schengen area in lieu of a passport, although I intend to still cross borders with my passport.

I haven’t done a Personalausweis for my son yet, due to the fact that doing one of course takes time and at the age of two would only be valid for a couple of years (Personalausweise are available for minors, but are not valid for the full ten years, as with mine, instead usually being for two or five years). I also wanted to wait for the conclusion of his process (to be handled in another post).