Foreigners living in Switzerland had reasons to be cheerful and discontented after two separate votes on Sunday.

"/> Foreigners living in Switzerland had reasons to be cheerful and discontented after two separate votes on Sunday.

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Lucerne denies foreigners right to vote

Foreigners living in Switzerland had reasons to be cheerful and discontented after two separate votes on Sunday.

In Basel, an SVP initiative to toughen naturalisation requirements was rejected, even though foreigners will now have to prove to the authorities that they have an adequate command of German.

In Lucerne, meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of voters rejected an initiative to grant foreigners the right to vote in local elections. The initiative, launched by the second-generation immigrants’ organization Secondos Plus, resulted in 83,773 ‘no’ and 16,006 ‘yes’ votes. 39.3 percent of registered voters participated in the referendum.

The Lucerne parliament, which is dominated by conservative parties, had rejected the initiative and recommended citizens to vote against it.

Foreigners have the right to vote in local elections in eight different cantons: three in the German-speaking part of Switzerland and five on the French-speaking side. In cantons Neuchâtel and Jura, they even have the right to vote in cantonal elections.

In the Basel City cantonal referendum, an initiative proposed by the far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) to tighten language requirements for naturalisation was rejected by 24,978 votes to 17,653. 43 percent of the electorate turned out to vote.

The SVP wanted foreigners seeking naturalisation to take a written test to prove a high level of German equivalent to the international standard B2.

Voters instead approved the cantonal government’s counter-proposal, which will require foreigners seeking a Swiss passport to pass a language exam at the less difficult B1/A2 level.  

People who have been resident in Switzerland for 12 years may apply for naturalisation.
The Federal Migration Office examines whether applicants are integrated into the Swiss way of life, are familiar with Swiss customs and traditions, comply with the Swiss rule of law, and do not endanger Switzerland’s internal or external security.
This examination is based on cantonal and municipal reports, before naturalisation proceeds in three stages.
Full Swiss citizenship is only acquired by those applicants who, after obtaining the federal naturalisation permit, have also been naturalised by their municipalities and cantons.

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What do we know about Geneva’s dual citizens?

The most international of Switzerland’s cantons and cities — 46 percent of Geneva residents are dual citizens — people who obtain the Swiss passport while still maintaining the nationality of their place of origin.

What do we know about Geneva's dual citizens?
Most of Geneva’s bi-nationals come from the EU. Photo by François WALSCHAERTS / POOL / AFP

With over 200 international organisations — including the United Nations agencies and numerous NGOs — located on its territory, it is understandable that about 40 percent of Geneva’s permanent population of just over 620,000 is foreign. 

And 46 percent of the Swiss population aged 15 or over residing in Geneva has dual nationality, by far the highest rate in the country, according to both federal and cantonal statistics.

This chart from the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) shows that Geneva is far ahead of other cantons in the number of bi-nationals.

Why do so many people opt for two passports?

The most obvious benefit of dual citizenship is the ability to live and vote in both countries, without having to give up any rights in either.

These numbers pertain only to those living permanently in Geneva— that is, they don’t include the 90,000 cross-border commuters employed in the canton.

This is what we know about these bi-nationals

Not surprisingly, given Geneva’s proximity to France and its linguistic similarity, most bi-nationals living in the canton — 27 percent — are also French citizens, according to the Cantonal Statistics Office (OCSTAT).

They are followed by Italians (17 percent), and Spanish and Portuguese (both 9 percent).

Birth versus naturalisation

Being born in Switzerland doesn’t mean the person is automatically Swiss.

If their parents were born abroad and hold only foreign passports, a person will not obtain Swiss citizenship by birth. 

Even though they have lived their entire lives in Switzerland, they have the same nationality as their parents and will continue to be considered as foreigners – until and unless they become naturalised.

In Geneva’s case, 63 percent of bi-nationals were naturalised, while 37 percent have had Swiss nationality from birth and obtained a second one later, according to OCSTAT.

READ MORE: Have your say: Tell us about getting citizenship in Switzerland

The French in Geneva stand out for their high proportion of dual nationals by birth (60 percent). For Italians and Spanish, the shares of dual nationals by birth are 38 percent and 34 percent, respectively.

The Portuguese were the last to immigrate to the canton, so the number of dual nationals by birth in this community is only 10 percent. The same is true for other countries of recent immigration.

How does Geneva compare with the rest of Switzerland?

As the chart above shows, at 46 percent, Geneva has the largest proportion of dual nationals.

Vaud is next (30 percent), followed by Ticino (28 percent), Basel-City (25 percent) and Zurich (23 percent).

Nationwide, Italians make up the bulk of dual nationals (23 percent), ahead of the French (12 percent), and Germans (8 percent).

READ MORE: Naturalisation through marriage: How your partner can obtain Swiss citizenship