Okay, alright, after bringing in some documents and shelling out another 110 euros in my semi-annual visit to the immigration office, I'm legal again. I can live in Austria with my family for two more years--hooray!
MA 35--I know the place well. The young clerk with a dozen fotos of Elvis taped up above her desk; the harsh, barely understandable voice on the loudspeaker (' Did they call my name or was that a sneeze?'); the looks of desperation all around me. I'm usually sitting with lots of Turkish people, some Croatians, and one or two Indian or Thai people, all of them hoping for permission to stay in Vienna.
To me, the staff are usually kind. Bemused. I have to hack up the German language for the first few, lower-level employees, then for the first few minutes with one of their bosses. Then she will probably smile--in a strictly non-patronizing way--and start speaking English.
But God knows how they treat Turkish applicants, black applicants or anyone who doesn't speak any German.
I don't know if Austria ever thought of itself as an immigration country, but it needs to start. There is a certain tone that creeps into conversation and media and everyday life here which makes me think some Austrians still think of their country as some sort of imperial powerhouse, drawing people to it like moths to a flame. If I'm perceiving it correctly, some Austrians will continue to believe the country should be selective and elitist and xenophobic about immigration, perhaps in the belief that only the best of the best deserve what Austria has to give.
The New Yorker, and the American, in me thinks this is precisely the wrong approach. I think Austria (and the rest of Europe) is gonna have to get right with immigration. Make it easier. Accept it. That's the only way this fossilized old country will ever get any new ideas. That's the only way Vienna will be able to join the 21st century, to return to our regularly scheduled programming.
Otherwise, Austria is living in the past.