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Migration law implementation during COVID-19

Migration law implementation during COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the services of the settlement, residence and citizenship authorities have been restricted to emergency operations. Closed borders, cancelled flights and largely paralysed travel infrastructure have made it even more difficult for foreigners to obtain a valid residence permit.

Given the current context, legislators are trying to adapt migration law to the current situation, but the foreign nationals impacted must nevertheless accept some restrictions on their rights as well as some (additional) financial expense. In general, certain applications for residence permits must be submitted in person to the competent authority. 

The 4th COVID-19 legislative package was announced on 4 April 2020. In accordance with the new paragraph 1a of Section 19 of the Settlement and Residence Act, applications for extensions and changes of purpose are now to be submitted to the authority not in person, but also by post or electronically (by e-mail), in deviation from paragraph 1 § 19 of the Act. It is also currently not possible to collect the residence permit in person from the authorities. Instead, the competent domestic authority should be contacted, as the residence permit can only be issued by post to applicants within Austria. Those foreign nationals who are not allowed to enter Austria due to travel restrictions because of COVID-19 will therefore not receive their residence permits because postal delivery abroad is not possible. 

With regard to residence permits subject to quotas, the number of quota places is determined annually in the Settlement Regulation. The corresponding Settlement Regulation is adopted by the Federal Government at the beginning of each year. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Federal Government has not yet been able to adopt the Settlement Regulation for the year 2020, so applications submitted in January 2020 will not be processed. Applicants outside Austria must continue to pay the cost of rent and health insurance in order to continue to meet the conditions for the issue of residence permits subject to quotas, even though they are unable to stay in the rented accommodation or to claim on their Austrian health insurance.

Land acquisition for foreign nationals 

There are no changes to the basic property transaction procedure due to COVID-19 and the measures to contain the virus, as these procedures are already carried out electronically. For example, an application for permission from the property regulation authorities to acquire a piece of land by a third-country national does not have to be submitted in person. 

Citizenship Act 

Restricted public access as a measure to contain COVID-19 also applies to the citizenship application procedure. At present, it is not possible to submit an application for Austrian citizenship in person. The appointments, for which applicants have had to wait for months, were cancelled by the Office of the Viennese Provincial Government – Municipal Department 35 is responsible for residence and citizenship matters – and postponed to an as yet unknown date. 

Travel

Travel restrictions due to the spread of the coronavirus were put in place in Austria and worldwide. These encompassed strict border controls, including within the European Union, as well as entry bans. 

New regulations regarding entry into Austria have been in force since 20 March 2020: Austrians and foreign nationals with right of residence must go into a 14-day period of home quarantine after entry. Foreign nationals who do not have right of residence in Austria require a health certificate in German or English when entering Austria. This must not be older than 4 days and must confirm that the molecular biological test for SARS-CoV-2 is negative. If a foreign national cannot present a health certificate on entry, he/she will be housed for 14 days in suitable accommodation, and may not leave this accommodation during this period. However, this measure will be waived if it is possible to leave Austrian territory immediately. 

Due to the current situation, many people remain in Austria, who would otherwise have been required to or wished to leave. Foreign nationals who have entered Austria with a Schengen visa or without a visa cannot leave Austria, even though the 90 days of permitted stay have passed. At this stage, it is not clear when normal travel will resume. 

As of 15 May 2020, the Office of the Viennese Provincial Government and the responsible Municipal Department 35 respectively have allowed in-person attendance at government offices – but only by prior appointment. This indicates the gradual reintroduction of normal public access to domestic authorities. 

Authors:

Mag. Osai Amiri, MSc., Associate and Head of Migration at LANSKY, GANZGER + partner
Mag. Hussein al Rawi, legal assistant at LANSKY, GANZGER + partner

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