On Tuesday Swiss justice minister Simonetta Sommaruga presented the government's case to the media after months of deliberation on the issue in parliament.
Young third generation immigrants who were schooled in Switzerland should, under certain conditions, be able to apply for ‘facilitated naturalization', a simplified version of the regular naturalization process, the government said in a statement.
It will recommend that the public votes in favour of a new law to that effect, which requires a change to the constitution, when they go to the polls on February 12th.
“Young third generation foreigners were born in Switzerland and were schooled there. They work and participate in social life in the same way as young Swiss people,” said the statement, adding that such people “are an important part of our society”.
“This proposed modification to the constitution recognizes the fact they have lived their whole lives in Switzerland”.
There are, however, certain conditions.
As with anyone wanting to become Swiss, third generation immigrants must be well integrated, respect Swiss law, order and values, and speak a national language.
To apply for facilitated naturalization they must have been born in Switzerland, have completed at least five years of schooling here and have a permanent residence permit.
One of their parents should have lived a minimum of ten years in Switzerland and have attended school here for at least five years. Plus a grandparent must also have either been born in Switzerland or have been granted permanent residency.
Finally, applicants cannot be over 25 years of age – a proviso added in parliament over fears people could shirk their military service obligations by only applying for citizenship after that age.
According to a recent study Switzerland has 24,650 third generation immigrants aged 9-25 who meet these criteria.
Unlike in many other countries, a person does not automatically become a Swiss citizen if they are born in the country. If neither their parents nor grandparents were Swiss, that could mean they are the third generation of a family living in the country without citizenship.
Even if this new law is approved by the public, such people will not become entitled to citizenship. They must apply for the facilitated process and have their application examined by federal authorities, who have the final say.
Facilitated naturalization is already available to foreign spouses of Swiss citizens who meet certain conditions.
It is generally a much shorter and simpler process than regular naturalization, which is decided by the cantonal and communal authorities of the area in which the applicant lives.