MA 35 Official: “We don’t pick up the phones.”

Vienna’s Immigration and Citizenship Offices, the Magistratsabteilung 35, has been at the center of criticism for years. Complaints are piling up at the Ombudsman Board. An employee of the MA 35 has now shared anonymously how the internal situation looks: “Phones ring all day long, but we hardly ever pick them up.”

On every piece of correspondence and e-mail from the MA 35, it says: Inquiries can be addressed to the responsible official starting at 13:00 every day. But no one picks up the phone, an MA 35 employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, confirmed to the radio station Ö1: “The phones actually ring all day at our offices. Actually, we hardly ever pick up the phone – unless we can see on the display that it’s an internal number or a supervisor. Otherwise, the phone is ignored.”

Employees Fear “Domino Effect”

The curious reason is that employees are afraid to deal with requests in a friendly, accommodating manner. If they did so, this would result in a “domino effect,” says the employee: “The moment one of our employees picks up the phone and answers a question, word gets around among the applicants. And that then leads to a large number of applicants finding out at lightning speed. They all then have the impression that they can currently get answers from us and have their concerns dealt with. And then they come directly in person the next day – and then the whole office is full, so to speak.”

The MA-35 employee interviewed mainly processes applications from Serbian and Turkish citizens. Almost always, the anonymous official says, it is only a matter of extending existing residence permits, usually a formality. He shows understanding for agitation among foreign workers and applicants. “They lose their jobs without visas. They can’t apply for jobs without a visa, they don’t get child benefits, family allowances, so basically no money. They don’t get anything without that.”

450 E-mails per Day

The coronavirus crisis exacerbated the situation. Applicants were not allowed into the office, had to send documents by e-mail: “It can happen that you wake up every day with an e-mail inbox with up to 450 new e-mails, of which you can then perhaps work on 120 – if you have a good day and maybe do a little overtime,” explains the employee.

Among them are simple complaint e-mails, documents that were still needed, and new applications. This overload is the main reason why some new applications are sometimes not even registered. If an application is submitted by e-mail, it can be overlooked. According to the employee, the next application for a visa could then be rejected, because one allegedly did not meet the deadlines.

The Viennese official also describes MA 35 as a “staff carousel (revolving door),” with many colleagues getting burnout and others applying to other departments as quickly as possible.

Wiederkehr: Reform Process Started

The office of the responsible city councilor, Christoph Wiederkehr (NEOS), says that a reform process has been started, a telephone service center and 50 additional employees are planned, and 25 have already started work. In addition, there is a new office for complaints and concerns.

The anonymous employee sees things differently: “In fact, people have been coming to our office for weeks. They have already deposited the concerns umpteen times and don’t get any answers, neither via e-mail nor on the phone.”

The magistrate also wants to work through the effects of CoV crisis, but the backlog in processing applications is so large that this is not planned until the end of 2022.