From the point of view of many foreign citizens, Austria is an attractive country in which they can imagine their personal and professional future. The topic of immigration is ever-present in the media, and xenophobic tendencies are unfortunately all too often evident. In my view, however, Austria’s demographic problems are seldom addressed in this context: many “baby boomers” will retire in the next few years and it is predicted that the birth rate across all educational levels in society will continue to decline. It is interesting in this context that Austrian immigration policy is not harnessing the advancing globalisation of the economy and the increasing standardisation of everyday cultures, but rather is trying to allow immigration only in a very limited way.
Obtaining Austrian residency is not easy for foreign nationals, even for those willing to work and who have a good education. This also applies to rich foreign nationals who are willing to integrate and who wish to spend their lives in Austria without working or studying. This is because obtaining a quota place for the “residence permit – exempting gainful employment” (“Privatiers”) is often difficult and rarely possible without legal support. The quota has remained low for years, and changes are not in sight. Instead of relying on quotas, it would make more sense to change the criteria to allow the influx of – sometimes very young – independently wealthy people. Then, those who fit Austria’s demographic needs could come, as long as they are willing to integrate.
In Austria – unlike in most parts of the world – the principle of dual and multiple citizenship does not apply. Only those who meet the terms of an exemption clause have the chance of dual citizenship. Current thinking that Austrian citizenship would be devalued if acquisition criteria were loosened clearly shows that the trend does not exactly point to the acquisition of citizenship easing. From my point of view, in addition to asylum cases, which must be considered separately, states must of course establish certain criteria for the acquisition of residence permits and citizenship. However, these should also be tailored to the geopolitical and national demographic situation in a forward-looking way.
European competition for key workers, investors and other financially strong immigrants is increasing and many foreign nationals are therefore switching to other EU states where residency or citizenship is often easier to obtain than in Austria. In order for an investor to obtain residency in this country, Austria requires a financial contribution towards the preservation and creation of regional jobs, innovative technology or new capabilities. Investments of 3 to 4 million euros are quite realistic for such a project – in contrast, only 30,000 euros have to be raised when founding start-up companies.
In order to be granted citizenship by way of investment, investment alone is not enough – no one should be able to buy Austrian citizenship. According to Article 10(6) of the Citizenship Act of the Republic of Austria, citizenship can be conferred in the case of extraordinary achievements “in the interest of the Republic” – especially in the fields of science, culture, sports and business. Approximately 30 to 40 citizenships are granted every year via this route. Criteria elaborated by the Federal Ministry of the Interior for assessing the undefined legal concept of “special interest of the Republic” are commonly the main starting points for a successful application. Although the final decision formally lies with the settlement authority, the latter must – via the Federal Ministry of the Interior and the involvement of the competent ministries – obtain confirmation from the federal government of the existence of special interest status. Confirmation or rejection by the federal government is not formally binding for the settlement authority (usually MA 35), as they made the final decision regarding the application, but in reality the decisions are made in line with the federal government’s recommendation. Where citizenship is granted “in the interest of the Republic”, dual citizenship is possible as an exception.
In response to the strong labour market demand for key workers and skilled workers in shortage occupations, Austrian migration law contains a number of corresponding residence permits. The “Red-White-Red Card” is an umbrella term for the residence permits for generally qualified skilled workers, for highly qualified skilled workers, for young skilled workers with an Austrian university degree, for skilled workers in shortage occupations as well as for business investors. At the same time, the residence permit “EU Blue Card”, introduced to comply with an EU directive, offers special advantages for the applicant to establish eligibility. Most residence permits require a labour market check to be carried out, which reviews whether comparably skilled workers are currently seeking work in the domestic labour market – the decision is not future-based. This review is now administered by the AMS, not the settlement authorities; the now shortened and somewhat simplified procedure nevertheless remains complicated and time-consuming. Obtaining a residence permit for employment in a shortage occupation, which was significantly simplified from October 2022 on, is also often more difficult in practice than expected. In various occupations, occupation-specific requirements are not recognised, which then triggers procedures to recognise foreign qualifications. Many immigrants also fail due to the income hurdle or the lack of financial resources.
Nevertheless, despite all this – well-meaning – criticism, it is generally true that Austria is dependent on immigration and is open to immigrants in general. Foreign nationals who are educated, willing to integrate (and also willing to invest) are given corresponding opportunities. We are happy to help you find your individual path to immigration.