Expat disputes 'unjust' citizenship rejection

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Caroline Bishop - [email protected]
Expat disputes 'unjust' citizenship rejection
Irving Dunn has lived in Switzerland for 43 years. Photo: SRF

A 75-year-old American denied Swiss citizenship earlier this week, despite having lived in the country for 43 years, told The Local on Thursday that he is hoping for a “second chance” with the authorities who rejected his application.


Irving Dunn is a retired chemical engineering teacher and researcher at ETH Zurich, the federal institute of technology, where he worked for 30 years after moving from the US to take up a position there in 1971.

On Monday, authorities in his home town of Einsiedeln rejected his application for citizenship saying he did not know the area well enough and didn’t have friends there.

That’s despite the fact Dunn has lived in the canton of Schwyz for 39 years, speaks fluent German, is a member of local sailing and tennis clubs and has brought up three children in the area with his English-teacher German wife.

Speaking to daily paper Tages Anzeiger on Wednesday, Dunn said the situation was “ridiculous and unjust”.

"I have three children who were born and grew up in Switzerland and my eldest daughter was a primary school teacher in Einsiedeln," he said.

"My wife was the first woman to teach in the monastary's gymnasium. If that’s not integration, I don't know what it is.”

According to the paper, the authorities said Dunn passed the required German language test and had a good reputation and financial standing, but that his knowledge of local politics and geography was insufficient.

Neither, they said, was he fully integrated as he could not name any friends or acqaintances in Einsiedeln — a conclusion Dunn disputes, saying that was not the original question.

“I was asked if I had any good friends here and I said no. I said that of course I have friends at the tennis club or sailing club.”

His sailing club even wrote a letter to a local newspaper in support of Dunn’s naturalization application, said Tages Anzeiger.

The decision comes after Dunn was interviewed by the naturalization commission at the end of 2013.

Among the many questions he was asked, Dunn had to name the number of lakes in the canton of Schwyz, the largest employer in Einsiedeln and the name of holidays held only in Einsiedeln.

“I know I performed badly,” the 75-year-old told the paper, saying that he was tired that evening and couldn’t remember certain things.

Peter Eberle, an official with the district of Einsiedeln, told Tages Anzeiger that Dunn’s mistake may have been to focus too much on practical matters after he told the commission he didn’t want to lose his Swiss residency should an accident abroad force a long-term stay out of the country.

To mention this as a reason for citizenship was undiplomatic, he said, and in contrast with other applicants who stress their love for Switzerland as the main reason.

In rejecting his application the commission said: “The applicant’s answers have shown that his motive for naturalization is not about integration but about the personal advantages it offers.”

Dunn was quoted as saying: “For me, a Swiss passport is the final step in my integration, nothing more.”

He told The Local that "it can be expected that persons mainly want personal advantages from citizenship".

Dunn said that in spite of the claimed "lack of integration" he got about 45 percent of votes in his favour and this makes him very proud.  

He said he has decided not to dispute the decision at the Schwyz cantonal civil court, which he has the right to do within ten days.

"Court proceedings are expensive and would irritate people here," he told The Local. 

Instead he is trying to get a second chance with the Gemeinde [municipality].  If unsuccessful he will drop the matter.

“I think my situation has had enough publicity for a while," Dunn told The Local

"But I hope the extensive media coverage of my case will help to encourage the Swiss government to improve the miserable citizenship situation that exists in in this country," he said.

"I believe the local officials are over-burdened and that the giving of citizenship should be handled by the federal government in Bern."


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