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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

How Switzerland’s Social Democrats want to introduce ‘citizenship by birth’

Swiss citizenship could be made much easier to achieve under a new set of rules by the country’s Social Democrats, including allowing citizenship by birth in a manner similar to the United States and France.

A picture of a Swiss passport up close
Will Switzerland introduce relaxed rules for citizenship? Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Switzerland’s Social Democrats want to relax Switzerland’s tough naturalisation and citizenship rules to allow “citizenship by birth”, potentially providing an easier path to citizenship for more than a million Swiss residents. 

In an interview with Swiss media, MP Paul Rechsteiner said ‘jus soli’ – the principle where a person can acquire citizenship by birth, should be introduced in Switzerland. 

Rechsteiner, Switzerland’s longest-serving parliamentarian, says the country’s sizeable foreign population – which is estimated to be at around 25 percent – are excluded from the democratic process. 

READ MORE: How to apply for Swiss citizenship: An essential guide

“Switzerland today is a three-quarter democracy. A quarter of the people have a foreign passport. They are excluded from civil rights.”

“Anyone who is born in a country, grows up here, works, spends his life, i.e. is part of the economy and society, should also have the appropriate rights as a citizen. That is a democratic and human rights principle.”

Currently, even third generation immigrants face barriers to citizenship in Switzerland, which has one of the tightest citizenship regimes in Europe. 

COMPARE: Which European countries have the toughest rules for gaining citizenship?

Rechsteiner however said rules would be put in place to prevent “birth tourism”.

“Birth tourism is not meant by jus soli”, Rechsteiner said, pointing to a proposal from Germany whereby one parent must live in the country for five years before citizenship can be bestowed. 

Rechsteiner said the Social Democrats wanted to phase out township citizenship, i.e. where the ultimate citizenship decisions are made at a municipal level. 

“Township citizenship is a relic from the state’s early years. The main thing was to regulate who is responsible for the citizens when they became poor, that is, were dependent on support,” he said 

“That is long gone. Today this system is no longer up to date, and it is also unfair.”

“In eastern Switzerland in particular, it is unfortunately the case that it often depends on the municipality whether you get the passport or not. 

“There are those who are very open about this. And others who do everything to prevent naturalisation.”

As The Local has reported previously, there are a myriad of examples where citizenship decisions made at a municipal level have led to absurd results. 

People have been knocked back for not knowing about animals in the local zoo, for not liking hiking and for not remembering the correct year that 18th-century landslides took place. 

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

How likely is this plan? 

While the Social Democrats are one of Switzerland’s major parties, such a plan is likely to encounter some resistance, particularly from the far-right Swiss People’s Party who have consistently advocated for a tough naturalisation framework. 

Rechsteiner cited the fight for women’s suffrage as an example of how these difficulties might be overcome. 

“When it came to women’s suffrage, it seemed impossible for a long time in Switzerland to change anything,” he said. 

Women did not receive the right to vote in Switzerland until 1971, while they did not have full voting rights in all Swiss cantons until 1990. 

“That is too little for our self-image to be a proud democracy. We finally need a citizenship that reflects Switzerland and is suitable for the future.”

Member comments

  1. I don’t know where folks keep getting the idea that citizenship is “easy” in the US. Except for the whole “being born in the US makes you a citizen” thing, getting a green card and citizenship is a very difficult and expensive process (there’s a reason folks go there illegally, and not for “birth tourism,” which is more of a right wing BS talking point).

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For members

SWISS CITIZENSHIP

EXPLAINED: How to fast track permanent residency in Switzerland

For many foreign residents, permanent residency can bring about many benefits to daily life in Switzerland and eventually pave your way to Swiss citizenship. Here’s a step-by-step guide to fast tracking your Swiss permanent residency.

Want to put your Swiss residency permit in the fast lane? Follow these steps. Image: Pixabay
Want to put your Swiss residency permit in the fast lane? Follow these steps. Image: Pixabay

Whether you want to stay in Switzerland forever or will move home at some point, permanent residency can make things a whole lot easier. 

Here’s how you can get on the fast track. 

Overview of the C Permit

The ‘Settled Foreign Nationals’ C permit is typically granted to nationals of EU and EFTA countries after a period of five years in Switzerland. For all other foreign residents (with the exception of US and Canadian nationals), permanent residency is only available after having lived in Switzerland for ten interrupted years.

This may seem like a long stretch. However, residents who are able to prove they are successfully integrated and fulfil the necessary requirements are able to speed up the process and apply for an early C permit after five years.

The permit offers many perks especially for those who have plans to stay in Switzerland long-term. For one, you only need to renew your permit every five years.

You can also ‘freeze’ your C permit if you move abroad, change jobs and live in every canton without restrictions. With this permit, you don’t need to seek permission when buying property. However, it doesn’t give you the right to vote at the federal level. 

Important to note here is that it is up to applicants to proactively request a C permit themselves. Foreign residents can request this on their B permit renewal forms or by asking canton authorities directly. In terms of paperwork, a Swiss immigration lawyer can assist in this step. 

Applicants should expect to receive a first response after three to four weeks, according to Adrian Tüscher, head of global employment and immigration services at KPMG. However, the overall process should not take longer than three months and the authority should proactively provide feedback in case of missing documents or information. 

EXPLAINED: What’s the difference between permanent residence and Swiss citizenship?

How important is integration?

“Integration is today, the key element on top of the needed years of regular and uninterrupted residence with a B permit,” stresses Ara Samuelian, head of immigration at PwC. “Indeed, since 2018 Switzerland has inserted integration criteria in its foreign national law. This change is the consequence of the famous voting of Swiss citizens that happened in 2014 against mass immigration.” 

Factors which fall under this umbrella of successful integration may include: observance of public safety and order, respect for the values of the Federal Constitution, and not being reliant on social welfare. Experts also stressed the importance of attaching a letter of motivation that detailed involvement in local sport or cultural clubs, associations or volunteering work.

When it comes to participation in economic life, a stable employment situation is essential. “You cannot apply if you find yourself unemployed and receiving unemployment benefits, as you are not qualified as being well-integrated into the local economy,” says Alexa Mossaz, immigration specialist at Legal Expat Switzerland. 

“If you are self-employed, you must be able to demonstrate that your company is contributing to the local economy by providing a copy of the commercial register extract and the most recent balance sheet. A short business plan detailing the nature of the business should also be joined, with the projection of revenues over the next three years.”

She also adds that having claimed unemployment benefits in the past would not affect the application. 

Reader question: What does being ‘successfully integrated’ in Switzerland mean?

What language skills are needed?

Generally speaking, it is expected that applicants have reached a B1 level of speaking and listening skills and A1 in written skills of the language spoken in the canton of residence. This should come from a recognised list of language certificates.

However, cantons can (and a number do) specifically require higher oral and written language levels in case of an anticipated C permit application, according to Tüscher. Knowledge of other official Swiss languages outside the place of domicile aren’t factored in. 

READ MORE: Switzerland introduces new rules for language proficiency certificates

How does the process vary from canton to canton?

Experts we contacted agreed that most cantons have different procedures and waiting times for the early C permit process. “In cantons such as Geneva and Vaud, such procedures can take up to one year due to administrative delays,” says Mossaz. 

Meanwhile, the approximate processing time for cantons such as Lucerne and Basel-Land is about three months. Many of these cantonal authorities may request a personal appearance at the office rather than a mere mail application. 

What else to watch out for?

Other general tips we received were that residency gaps of more than six months spent outside of Switzerland would affect the five-year requirement for the B permit.

A student holding a temporary permit would also need to find employment and transform this into a B work permit for at least two years before applying for a C permit. 

And should a parent be staying at home to take care of their children with no employment to show, they would need to prove that their financial situation is stable through the working spouse, according to Mossaz. 

Nevertheless, there isn’t a time crunch. Tüscher says that the early C permit can be applied anytime after the five-year threshold is met. In case the permit is turned down, the authorities would simply extend the existing B permit (provided those requirements are still met). 

Maintaining the C permit

Even after securing a C permit, it’s important to know how to keep it. 

Some of the reasons for a rejection or revocation of a C permit could include an entry in the criminal

records due to a severe penal action (a speeding fine would not fall under that), social welfare dependency or an excessive debt enforcement track record, according to Tüscher. 

Authorities also have the power to revoke the settlement permit for those who leave Switzerland for longer than six months. To combat this, it is best to apply for a temporary suspension early on. This entitles you to live in another country for four years while keeping the C permit on hold. 

For more in-depth information on navigating work permits in Switzerland, check out our coverage here:

READ MORE: Nine things you need to know about work permits in Switzerland

EXPLAINED: What’s the difference between permanent residence and Swiss citizenship?

EXPLAINED: When and how should you renew your Swiss residence permit?

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