Navigating Austria’s Merit-Based Citizenship

Stefan Pacher from Austrian law firm Wolf Theiss contends that Austria’s merit-based pathway to citizenship stands as a genuine alternative to citizenship by investment.

Austria, distinct from traditional citizenship-by-investment pathways, offers a merit-based route to citizenship through exceptional achievements. Governed by the Austrian Citizenship Act (Staatsbürgerschaftsgesetz), this pathway establishes unique conditions for individuals to acquire Austrian citizenship and consequently obtain an EU passport. This article serves as a comprehensive guide for immigration professionals, emphasising the programme’s merit-based nature.

Granting Citizenship for Exceptional Achievements

Under section 10(6) of the Austrian Citizenship Act, individuals may receive Austrian citizenship based on exceptional achievements they have demonstrated and are expected to continue demonstrating in the future. This grant is made if it aligns with the interests of the Republic of Austria.

While the law doesn’t provide precise definitions for the terms used, generally, individuals such as sports personalities, renowned artists, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists have successfully utilised this provision.

It is up to the Federal Government of Austria to confirm whether the naturalisation of a foreigner is in the particular interest of the Republic of Austria due to the exceptional achievements of the applicant. The government holds substantial discretion in determining whether an applicant’s case meets the specified criteria. Their decision is final and not subject to appeal.

Guidelines for Exceptional Achievements

To enhance clarity and transparency in evaluating exceptional achievements aligning with Austria’s interests, the Federal Government has issued guidelines. These guidelines aim to define extraordinary accomplishments as those significantly exceeding average standards. Furthermore, an individual is never naturalised “in lieu of honour”.

Outlined below are the Federal Government’s criteria for assessment:

  • Scientific Contributions: Involvement in pioneering research or advancement of existing scientific domains, especially benefitting Austria. This includes international recognition and a high standing in the scientific community, substantial publications, and the transfer of knowledge to Austria.
  • Business Contributions: Holding influential positions or ownership in companies with high economic performance, job creation and investment in Austria, fostering international recognition, and strengthening economic relations.
  • Sports Achievements: Demonstrating exceptional performance unmatched by Austrian athletes, maintaining outstanding performance for at least a year, with potential for sustained success and immediate inclusion in an Austrian national team.
  • Artistic Contributions: Making significant artistic contributions in Austria, contributing to art education, enhancing Austria’s artistic reputation globally, attracting audiences through outstanding work, and innovating artistic forms.

While these guidelines concentrate on science, business, sports, and the arts, it’s important to note that exceptional achievements in other domains, such as philanthropy, are also acknowledged.

General Criteria

In addition to exceptional achievements, specific naturalisation requirements apply universally. These encompass integrity, no adverse impact on Austria’s international relations, a positive attitude towards Austria, and no active residence ban.

Of note, applicants under section 10(6) of the Austrian Citizenship Act aren’t required to renounce their foreign citizenship(s) or prove proficiency in the German language or knowledge of Austrian history.

The procedure is quite technical and consists of several steps. Due to the fact that each case is unique, there is no timeframe until an applicant can obtain Austrian citizenship via this route. Usually, the entire process spans one to three years. It should also be noted that the names of applicants are not published.

In conclusion, the Austrian Citizenship Act offers a unique and merit-based pathway to Austrian citizenship and an EU passport that differs widely from traditional citizenship-by-investment programmes. This pathway offers an intriguing option for individuals such as high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs), renowned athletes, globally acclaimed artists, and scientists seeking Austrian citizenship based on their exceptional contributions.

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