Moderate liberalization of citizenship law approved in Swiss referendum

By Samuel D. Schmid, GLOBALCIT Collaborator 

Non-citizens whose grandparents immigrated to Switzerland – so-called “3rd generation foreigners” – can soon naturalise more easily.

60.4 percent of Swiss voters approved the new constitutional provision in a mandatory referendum. Polls indicated that the public tended towards yes. But since new constitutional provisions can only be adopted when a majority of cantons approves as well, and since earlier reform proposals were rejected because the cantonal majority was not reached, it was unsure until the end whether the reform would stand a chance. That 17 out of 23 cantons voted yes today thus came as quite a surprise.

The far right Swiss People’s Party was the only major party opposing the reform. With yet another contested poster campaign, they warned about “uncontrolled mass naturalizations”, depicting a woman in a Niqab. Besides a broad coalition of major parties, the youth movement “Operation Libero” successfully countered the far-right campaign, arguing that “3rd generation foreigners” are as Swiss as any Swiss citizen.

Commentators stressed that it was probably only because the reform was so moderate that it was adopted so clearly.

To qualify for a “facilitated naturalisation”, 3rd generation foreigners must fulfill numerous additional conditions. They need a minimum of 5 years of Swiss schooling, and they need to provide proof that at least one grandparent was legally resident in Switzerland. In addition, at least one parent must have a permanent residence permit as well as a minimum of 10 years of residence and 5 years of Swiss schooling. Finally, the naturalisation application has to be filed before turning 25 years old – a provision that is meant to make sure that male candidates cannot evade mandatory military service.

Furthermore, the reform is only relevant for about 25’000 people. Most of them have their distant roots in Italy and other European countries.

The new provision will come to force next year, together with a new citizenship law making naturalisation more restrictive for 1st generation immigrants. Among other things, the new requirements demand that an applicant must not be reliant on social welfare.

Naturalisations in Switzerland are further regulated and decided upon by municipalities. However, the new provisions are part of the national legal framework.

Read more here (in German) and here (in English).

For details of current and past citizenship legislation in Switzerland, please check out our country profile pages.