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In This Land of Immigrants, Tales of International Families


Having relatives all around the planet makes for exciting family stories, but keeping in touch with your loved ones is also a constant challenge.

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We asked Viennese with family all around the world  to tell us how they keep their connections strong – and how the sudden events of the coronavirus lockdown has changed their family life, at least for a while. What’s clear time and again is that Austria, and Vienna in particular, has become a place where international families thrive.

At the beginning of 2020, almost 1.5 million people living in Austria held citizenship from another country – that’s 16.2% of the population, the third highest rate in the EU (after only Luxembourg and Cyprus).


Even more, about 2 million people (23% of the population) have what Austrian bureaucracy somewhat ambiguously calls Migrationshintergrund – which means that either they themselves, or at least one of their parents were born abroad.

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We’ve come a long way since 1961, when only 100,000 people with non-Austrian citizenship lived here – a mere 1.4% of the population back then. Over the last 60 years, the Alpine Republic has – almost quietly – become one of the most international and diverse countries in Europe.

“Vienna has a higher share of inhabitants born abroad than New York City.


Today, a higher share of Viennese was born abroad (37%) than New Yorkers (36%). As befits a truly multicultural hub for Central Europe and beyond, more than 51% of Vienna’s residents today speak a first language other than German.

Austrians – and particularly Austrian politicians – have been quite good at reaping the rewards of this international windfall; of people coming here and bringing their skills, contributing ideas and sharing their culture.


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They’ve also been pretty good at looking the other way when it came to political participation, or even appreciation and acknowledgement of how international this country of ours has become. The mere statement that modern Austria is an Einwandererland – an immigrant nation – was still quite controversial not so long ago and while mostly accepted and even welcomed today, in some corners, it still meets resistance.

In reality, though, the history of immigration to modern Austria already began shortly after regaining independence after the war. In 1956, the young republic welcomed 200,000 refugees from Hungary fleeing an anti-Soviet uprising that was brutally suppressed.

A similar story played out in 1968, when another 200,000 refugees from Czechoslavkia escaped after the Prague Spring was crushed. While some stayed in Austria, many traveled on to Western Europe and the United States.

In the late 1960s and ’70s, a booming economy led businesses to look for workers further afield – in what was then Yugoslavia and the Republic of Turkey. Dubbed Gastarbeiter (literally “guest worker”), they helped fuel Austria’s Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle), yet were still often seen as “others” – not unironic in Vienna, where most residents are descended from immigrants that came from all corners of the Habsburg monarchy.

famous poster from 1973 showed a little boy and an immigrant with the words in Viennese dialect: “I haaß Kolaric, du haaßt Kolaric. Warum sogn’s zu dir Tschusch?” (“My name’s Kolaric, your name’s Kolaric. Why do they call you Tschusch?”).

The next stage came in the early 1990s, when several hundreds of thousands of refugees fled the Balkan wars, many of them staying in Austria. Then, in the 2000s, immigration from Central and Eastern Europe took off after the 2004 and 2007 EU enlargements.


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The number of immigrants living in Austria more than doubled since 2002 – to 1.5 million today.


In the 2010s, Austria once again became a safe haven for hundreds of thousands from wartorn countries like Syria and Afghanistan. There have been political spats and arguments aplenty, not doubt, but Austria stayed open – and people kept wanting to come and live here.

From 2002 to 2020, the number of EU citizens in Austria more than tripled, from 257,000 to 778,000. The number of thirdcountry nationals increased by half, from 407,000 to 708,000. Austria is more international than ever – and so are its families.

If you ask me – and I suppose I speak for many international families – once this pandemic is over, I can’t wait to return to open borders.