Citizenship in Austria
Background and Legal Considerations
Austria has adopted provisions that allow the acquisition of citizenship on the basis of an investment as a means of development of the country. In Austria, Art. 10 (6) of the Austrian Citizenship Act states that the government can reward foreign persons with citizenship in the event of extraordinary merit. This may take various forms, including economic ones, and can include investment or other economic benefit brought to Austria. However, citizenship is not granted on the basis of investment alone. The foreign investor must make an extraordinary contribution alongside his investment, such as bringing new technologies to the country or creating a substantial number of new jobs.
Austria’s Fast-Track Citizenship by Investment Program
Austria is a favorite destination for foreign investors as the country was recently ranked the 12th richest country in the world, and its capital city Vienna has been ranked the world’s best city in terms of quality of life. Austria has a thriving social market economy along with a high standard of living and the school systems and healthcare infrastructure are also well regarded around the world. The tourism industry accounts for approximately 9% of Austria’s gross domestic product, with hydropower, wind energy, and solar energy being the other main economic sectors.
Along with the financial benefits of investing in Austria, the country also recently amended its immigration laws to create a very attractive immigration-based visa program to encourage more foreign nationals to commit their resources to the country. The nation now has a fast-track citizenship by investment program in which qualifying applicants can obtain an Austrian passport in as short a time as one year – without the requirement to first obtaining permanent residence.
Citizenship by Investment
Ordinarily, in order to become an Austrian citizen, a foreign national must reside in the country on a continuous basis for ten years. However, foreign investors are eligible to apply for Austrian citizenship on the grounds of making a significant economic contribution to the nation, thereby bypassing the lengthy residence requirement. (Foreign nationals may also qualify for the expedited citizenship procedure if they can make a significant athletic, scientific, or cultural contribution to the country, but most investors would typically only qualify under the economic provision).
An important part of the program to consider is the fact that the government of Austria views the investment as more of a donation. Once the investor commits the money, the investor will not be able to withdraw the investment at any point in the future (though the investment will be tax deductible under Austria’s laws). The qualifying investment must be active, such as the formation of a new commercial enterprise that is geographically headquartered in Austria or a direct investment into an existing Austrian business that will prospectively create new jobs or increase product sales. Passive investments such as investments into government bonds or real estate holdings do not qualify for the citizenship program. There is no minimum amount that must be invested but in general an amount of at least 2,000,000 Euros is needed for the application to be approved.
The citizenship application itself is relatively simple, especially in comparison to similar programs in other European Union countries as Austria does not require foreign investor applicants to learn the German language or pass an examination testing knowledge of the Austrian government and history. Rather, the application requires the submission of completed forms that provide biographic information about the investor and family as well as an explanation as to where the investment funds will be directed and how they will make a significant contribution to the country. In addition, the investor must submit proof of his/her clean criminal record, detailed Curriculum Vitae, a detailed explanation of the investor’s business background, and multiple character and employment references.
The expedited processing still takes about 12-18 months to process, and any single application could take an even longer period of time depending on the particular investor’s specific circumstances (and the circumstances of the investment). The reason for the lengthy processing is because every minister in the Austrian government must individually and personally approve the application. Therefore, each minister must be fully convinced that the approval of the investor’s application and economic contribution are vital to the Austrian national interest.
Under the citizenship-by-investment provisions, an applicant is required to invest actively in the Austrian economy, for example in the form of a joint venture or direct investment in a business that creates jobs or generates new export sales. Significant direct investment is generally required. Passive investments in government bonds, real estate, etc. do not qualify.
In addition to standard documentary requirements (passports, birth and marriage certificates, etc.), a completely clean personal record (certificate of no criminal record), a comprehensive CV and business background information as well as impeccable references must be provided by all applicants.
The Austrian Citizenship Act generally requires the applicant to abandon his current citizenship as a precondition for being granted Austrian citizenship. However, in case of a grant of citizenship under the provisions of Art. 10 (6) of the Citizenship Act, the former citizenship can be legally maintained, i.e. the applicant is not required to give up his present citizenship.
The grant of citizenship on the basis of an investment involves various procedures and requires Government approval at several levels. It is therefore essential that the applicant is properly advised from the beginning, that each individual case is carefully prepared and that informal approvals from the key ministries are obtained before the investment is made and the formal application process is started.
Henley & Partners advises on suitable investment opportunities, liaises with the various government agencies and ministries, and finally prepares and lodges your application with the Government. As with other citizenship programs, the procedure involves a thorough background check, and applicants are normally required to attend an interview in Austria. Citizenship documents are issued after the citizenship application has been approved.
The average time frame for an application is 24 - 36 months. Successful applicants receive full citizenship of the Republic of Austria by decision of the Government of Austria, and can apply for a passport immediately afterwards. Passports are issued within a few days.
The grant of citizenship is not published and not reported to any other country, as it falls within the Government provisions relating to privacy/official secrets.
As a citizen of Austria you can live and work in the country as well as anywhere in the European Union at any time. In addition, as an EU citizen you also have the right to live in Switzerland, which is a very attractive place for tax-advantaged residence.
Unless you decide to actually reside in Austria, you are not subject to tax in Austria.
The Austrian passport enjoys an excellent reputation and offers very comprehensive visa-free travel, including visa-free access to the USA. The Austrian passport is without a doubt among the very best travel documents in the world.
When you acquire citizenship under the Austrian Citizenship Act, you and your family enjoy full citizenship for life, which can be passed on to future generations by descent.
The granting of citizenship is at the sole discretion of the Government of the Republic of Austria, and we are unable to guarantee that applications will be approved. However, great care has been taken to provide the best possible safeguards for persons entering the program. Prior to taking on any mandate, a written agreement is made between the applicant and Henley & Partners defining the responsibilities of both parties.
Key advantages of Austrian citizenship
Austrian passport gives visa-free access to most countries worldwide
Opportunity to become an EU citizen upon making a substantial investment
Austrian passport gives the right to reside anywhere in the EU as well as in Switzerland
There is no need to spend any particular time actually residing in Austria
There are no tax consequences unless your main (tax) residence is moved to Austria
Benefits of Obtaining an Austrian Passport
Foreign nationals who are interested in Austria’s program may be pleased to learn that the nation’s citizenship by investment program allows investors to obtain citizenship for their spouse and up to two unmarried and minor children. Notably, investment-based citizenship applications are considered state secrets by this country so the Austrian government does not publicize or otherwise reveal to any foreign government that Austria has issued a new passport to a foreign national. Also, Austria does not require foreign investors who become citizens to renounce their former nationality, so investors may keep their original passport if they so choose.
Moreover, an Austrian passport allows its holder to freely travel and work (and the children may attend schools) in any of the 27 European Union member states without the need for obtaining a visa or other travel document.
Austrian passport holders are also eligible to easily transfer assets and purchase real estate in any of the EU member states. Additionally, the country is part of a special international travel agreement with the United States so Austrian passport holders do not require U.S. visas to enter that nation as long as their planned stay is less than 90 days. In these ways, the Austrian passport opens doors to residence in many countries which can be very attractive to foreign investors who want to have the freedom to live and work wherever they choose.
Additionally, there is no requirement that the foreign investor physically reside in Austria after obtaining the passport, and if the investor decides not to relocate to Austria, the investor will not be subject to the nation’s taxes. However, if the investor does move to Austria the investor must purchase health insurance for the entire family.
Interested investors are encouraged to contact knowledgeable business and immigration attorneys for further information on the Austrian fast-track investment-based immigration program.
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