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IMMIGRATION

Will the Swiss back simpler naturalization for 3rd gen immigrants?

The Swiss people will go to the polls this Sunday, February 12th, to have their say on whether third generation immigrants should have access to a simpler citizenship application process.

Will the Swiss back simpler naturalization for 3rd gen immigrants?
Photo: Martin Abegglen
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.
 
The government is backing a change to the constitution that would give young third generation immigrants who were born and schooled in Switzerland access to the ‘facilitated naturalization’ process, an easier and less long-winded version of the usual citizenship procedure. 
 
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.
 
Their grandparents and parents must also meet certain conditions related to residency and schooling.
 
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.
 
An estimated 60 percent of them are Italian, according to a government study.
 
But that hasn’t stopped a committee campaigning against the proposed change to the law from using a controversial poster showing a woman wearing a niqab or burqa above the tagline ‘Uncontrolled naturalization? No to facilitated naturalization”.
 
Critics of the campaign image distributed across the country ahead of Sunday's referendum say the poster is really just a brazen appeal to those worried about more Muslims becoming Swiss.
  
“That is exactly what they are trying to (do)”, said Pius Walker, who heads the Zurich-based advertising agency Walker AG.
 
“It is a very, very frightening thing that is going on here.”
 
The committee is backed by many members of Switzerland’s right-wing, anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party (SVP).
 
In campaigning against the measure, SVP has made clear that Italians were not its primary concern.
 
“In one or two generations, who will these third generation foreigners be?” SVP lawmaker Jean-Luc Addor wrote in an opinion piece on the party's website.
  
“They will be born of the Arab Spring, they will be from sub-Saharan Africa, the Horn of Africa, Syria or Afghanistan,” he warned.
 
SVP members are no strangers to campaigns denounced as discriminatory, notably a successful 2009 initiative to outlaw the construction of new mosque minarets.
   
Campaigns demonizing Muslims are expected from the SVP, but they are not “deemed acceptable” by the Swiss political mainstream, said Sophie Guignard of the Institute of Political Science at the University of Bern.
  
For most politicians and journalists, the burqa poster amounts to “a violent attack against Muslims,” Guignard told AFP.
   
But that does not mean it won't work.
  
The latest polls from the gfs.bern institute show 66 percent of people support easier citizenship for third-generation immigrants, with 31 percent against and three percent undecided.
   
Polls from the news company Tamedia have it closer, with 55 percent in favour and 44 percent against.
  
 The “No” side has however gained about 10 points since polling opened.
   
And an upset can't be ruled out, especially with the touchstone issue of Swiss identity and Islam at the centre of the debate.
 
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.
 
The Swiss people are voting on two other issues on Sunday, a proposed tax reform for businesses and a project that would guarantee funding for roads and traffic infrastructure.

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ZURICH

Zurich approves simplified path to Swiss citizenship

Voters in Switzerland’s most populous canton on Sunday approved a proposal which will make it easier for foreigners to get Swiss citizenship.

Zurich approves simplified path to Swiss citizenship

The vote passed with 69.1 percent support, making it the most popular of the four initiatives put to the polls. 

Around 350,000 foreigners live in Zurich, which is roughly one quarter of the population – although the percentage is as high as 50 percent in some municipalities. 

The successful proposal called for Zurich’s naturalisation process, including the citizenship exam, to be made uniform across all 162 municipalities. 

The questions in the exam will now be centralised on a cantonal level. 

The test will include 350 questions about Swiss history, tradition, politics and culture, with a focus on Zurich. 

Anyone taking the test will be given 50 questions at random and must answer at least 30 correctly to pass. 

More information about the citizenship process in Zurich can be found at the following link. 

EXPLAINED: How Zurich wants to make naturalisation easier

What else was decided on Sunday? 

Voters in Zurich also decided to reject a proposal to lower the voting age to 16, with 64.1 percent saying ‘nein’ to the proposal. 

A proposal to provide for more parental leave – and even up gender imbalances between fathers and mothers – was also rejected. 

Finally, voters supported law changes which sought to enshrine Zurich’s climate change goals in the cantonal constitution. 

A detailed breakdown of the vote can be seen here. 

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