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PASSPORT

Just 1,000 third-generation foreigners apply for Swiss passport under easier citizenship rules

Only a small percentage of the estimated 25,000 third-generation foreigners who can now take advantage of rule changes that make it easier for them to obtain Swiss citizenship have done so to date, but the current requirements may be partly to blame, a report published on Tuesday suggests.

Just 1,000 third-generation foreigners apply for Swiss passport under easier citizenship rules
Swiss passports are notoriously difficult to obtain. Photo: AFP

Third-generation foreigners are those who were born in Switzerland and may have spent their lives here but who do not have Swiss citizenship because their parents and grandparents did not. 

In 2017, the Swiss public voted in a referendum to allow this group to access to facilitated (or simplified) naturalization– a far simpler citizenship process usually reserved for the foreign spouses and children of Swiss citizens. 

In February last year, the news rules came into effect.

Read also: How to apply for Swiss citizenship – a guide

However, a new report (here in French) published by the Federal Commission on Migration (FCM) shows just 1,065 third generation foreigners have applied for citizenship under the new rules so far, while 309 have already obtained the Swiss passport.

Eighty percent of applicants came from four countries – Italy, Turkey, Kosovo and Spain, according to the report.

Meanwhile, two thirds of the applications came from just six cantons, five of which are considered to have restrictive citizenship processes (Aargau, St Gallen, Solothurn, Thurgau and Basel).

The report had allowed applicants to sidestep restrictive cantonal policies, its authors said.

Parents school requirement as a legal obstacle

However, the FCM also recognised that the current rules for facilitated naturalisation for third-generation foreigners made it difficult for some applicants – specifically the requirement that they prove their parents had completed five years of compulsory schooling in Switzerland.

Read also: Swiss democracy is failing country's foreign population

The FCM noted that this requirement did not match up to the immigration reality of many of Switzerland’s third-generation foreigners. The commission said that many of these people’s grandparents had come to Switzerland as seasonal workers and had only brought their children to the country when they had secured a residence permit.

As a result, many parents of potential candidates for facilitated immigration had not attended five years of school in Switzerland. However, many had completed professional training here.

The FCM recommended that the rules be changed to reflect this situation, with that professional education being recognised in place of the five years of compulsory schooling.

The commission also called on communes and cantons to do more to encourage third-generation foreigners to take out Swiss citizenship.

A flop?

Geneva newspaper Tribune de Genève labelled the results of the first year of the rule changes a “flop” but the woman behind the initiative, Ada Marra, whose grandparents emigrated to Switzerland in the 1960s, told Swiss news agency SDA she wasn't disappointed at all.

She said the figures indicated that their was “a real need” in cantons with more restrictive citizenship policies.

The military service issue

Under the rules, only third-generation foreigners under the age of 25 can apply for facilitated citizenship. This was a proviso added in by parliament over fears people could shirk their military service obligations by only applying for citizenship after that age – though those currently aged 26-35 will be able to apply if they do so in the first five years of the new system.

Read also: Brit denied Swiss citizenship after 'failing raclette question'

 

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ZURICH

EXPLAINED: How Zurich has simplified the Swiss citizenship process

Voters in the Swiss canton of Zurich on May 15th approved a proposal to simplify naturalisation requirements for the canton's 350,000 foreigners. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How Zurich has simplified the Swiss citizenship process

On May 15th, voters in the Swiss canton of Zurich overwhelmingly approved a proposal to simplify the canton’s naturalisation process for foreigners. 

Several questions were on the ballot, including reduced fees for younger people who pursue Swiss citizenship, longer waiting times for those convicted of criminal offences and a shift towards online naturalisation. A summary of the results can be seen here

For foreigners living in Zurich and wanting to acquire the famous red passport, perhaps the most important question on the ballot was making the requirements uniform on a cantonal basis, rather than allowing them to differ from municipality to municipality, as is the current case. 

Here’s what you need to know. Please note that while Zurich voters approved the changes, as at May 16th they have not been formally implemented. 

‘Uniform basic requirements’ for citizenship flagged

While anyone who is successfully naturalised will get the same famous red passport no matter where they do so, the actual process differs dramatically depending on where you do it. 

The primary naturalisation process takes place at a communal level, which means there can be different requirements from municipality to municipality. 

With 26 cantons, four official languages and century after century of tradition, these traditions and cultural quirks have had plenty of time to ferment and develop. 

As The Local has covered several times before, this includes a knowledge test about specifics in the local commune which often leads to absurd consequences, while in some places local villagers and neighbours will have a say on whether a person should receive citizenship. 

People have been knocked back for a range of reasons, including not liking hiking, not knowing enough about local zoo animals, not knowing enough about cheese and just not being deserving enough.  

READ MORE: The ten most surprising questions on Switzerland’s citizenship exam

Recognising the difficulties, the Swiss government in 2018 revised the Civil Rights Act, which included uniform basic requirements for citizenship. 

The cantons however retain a degree of flexibility when it comes to implementing the rules, which is why they are being put to a vote on May 15th. 

Basic knowledge test

Each naturalisation process includes a basic knowledge test. 

The tests are carried out at a municipal level and vary from place to place, prompting Swiss national broadcaster SRF to report in 2017 that Switzerland “has as many naturalisation procedures as there are municipalities”. 

Zurich, Switzerland’s most populous canton, has 162 municipalities. While it might be a slight exaggeration to say there are 162 unique tests, the questions can vary greatly. 

The May 15th vote standardised the process by establishing a basic knowledge test for the entire canton. 

The test includes 350 questions about Swiss history, tradition, politics and culture, with a focus on Zurich. 

Anyone taking the test will be given 50 questions at random and must answer at least 30 correctly to pass. 

What other requirements were up for a vote on May 15th?

In addition to the above, there are three other changes forecast as part of the new rules. 

People under 18 will face tighter rules for naturalisation if they are found guilty of a crime. 

Referendum: Zurich to vote on lower voting age

According to the new law, juveniles will not be able to apply for naturalisation for two years after a minor crime (i.e. shoplifting, simple bodily harm, property damage) or for five years for major crimes (i.e. robbery, murder, rape). 

The changes will also lay the groundwork for naturalisation processes to take place online. A handful of cantons including Bern and Vaud already do this, but no such online system is established in Zurich. 

Finally, the law will also reduce the cost for younger people to apply for citizenship. 

More information is available here. 

What did the parties say before the vote?

Although polling was minimal, the changes have won widespread support among Swiss political parties. 

All of the major Swiss political parties support the change, with only the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) opposed. 

Writing in the Swiss press, the SVP’s Diego Bonato suggested multicultural Zurich should have tighter naturalisation rules than the rest of the country rather than the other way around to ensure proper integration. 

“The higher the multicultural proportion of the population, the more closely you have to pay attention to naturalisation” 

While the SVP is Switzerland’s largest and most popular political party, it has comparatively lower influence in Zurich. 

The Social Democrats, who hold the mayorship in the city, are in favour of the proposal and hit back at suggestions it did not promote integration. 

“The new citizenship law is shaped by the idea that early and rapid naturalisation promotes integration. However, citizenship should be the the end of successful integration, not the beginning.”

“Foreigners who wish to remain in our country permanently and become part of Swiss society must society, must (still) undergo an integration process lasting several years.”

Who was able to vote?

Much like Switzerland’s men taking until the 1970s to decide whether women should get the vote, it is perhaps a paradox that foreigners’ fates will be put to a vote without their input. 

Only Swiss citizens have the right to vote in the most cases, although there are limited voting rights in some cases at a municipal level in some parts of the country. 

Efforts to provide similar rights in Zurich have continued to stall. 

Around one quarter of Zurich’s population do not have the right to vote, although it can be as high as 50 percent in some municipalities. 

Approximately 1.5 million people live in Zurich. 

More information about voting in Zurich, including details about the upcoming referendum votes, can be found here. 

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