Switzerland tightens already strict naturalisation law by demanding more civic integration

By Sam Schmid, GLOBALCIT collaborator

Non-citizen residents who want to naturalise in Switzerland face new rules as of January 1st, 2018. Besides one marginal liberalisation, the new law introduces more stringent conditions. The main aim of the law is to naturalise only those who can prove high levels of integration.

Aspiring future Swiss citizens must first obtain a permanent residency permit. In addition, they must pass a test to provide proof of proficiency in a national language spoken in their canton, and they must have a clean criminal record. Finally, they have to be financially independent, and they must respect the values of the Swiss constitution.

Lukas Rieder from the Swiss State Secretariat of Migration concedes that the latter condition will be the most difficult one to assess. The plan is that this criterion be evaluated in an interview with the municipal authority who grants citizenship. (Citizenship by naturalisation as well as birthright is awarded locally in Switzerland; national citizenship is derived from it.) To guard against arbitrary decisions these interviews shall be standardised and applicants – if they feel they have been rejected on arbitrary grounds – have the possibility to file a legal complaint and ask for re-evaluation in court.

The only liberalisation is the reduction of the residence requirement from 12 to 10 years. However, one must note that individual cantons and municipalities have leeway in determining how many of those years must be spent living in their territory. This makes the comparatively strict Swiss naturalisation law even more so in practice, especially for the internally mobile migrants.

On the whole, with its new law Switzerland follows a European trend in introducing more stringent “civic integration” requirements, while liberalising access to citizenship in terms of residence duration requirements and dual citizenship toleration. However, while the Alpine federation was among the first in Europe to tolerate dual citizenship in case of naturalisation – in 1992 – it has been hesitant to facilitate naturalisation for later generation immigrants. In February 2017 the Swiss demos voted to ease the rules for third generation immigrants, but also this reform has tied access to citizenship to conditions of civic integration and was explicitly defended by the government by arguing that no Swiss passport will be handed out “automatically”.

Read more here (in German).

For details of current and past Swiss citizenship legislation consult our country profile pages.