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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

Switzerland votes on citizenship measure after anti-Muslim campaign

Switzerland voted Sunday on whether to make it easier for third generation immigrants to become citizens, after a campaign tainted by anti-Muslim messages and charges of religious prejudice.

Switzerland votes on citizenship measure after anti-Muslim campaign
Photo: Valeriano de Domenico/AFP
Preliminary results pointed to the measure being approved, in what would be a defeat for the far right nationalist Swiss People's Party (SVP), which put issues of Islam and national identity at the centre of the debate.
 
The government as well as most lawmakers and political parties supported the proposal that would allow the grandchildren of immigrants to skip several steps in the lengthy process of securing a Swiss passport.
 
According to a migration department study, less than 25,000 people in the country of about eight million currently qualify as third generation immigrants, meaning they have at least one grandparent who was born here or acquired Swiss residency.
 
Nearly 60 percent of that group are Italians, followed by those with origins in the Balkans and Turkish nationals.
 
Debate on the proposal had nothing to do with religion at the outset, said Sophie Guignard of the Institute of Political Science at the University of Bern.
 
It was the SVP, a party repeatedly accused of demonising Islam, that focused on the risks of more Muslims becoming citizens and the possible “loss of Swiss values”, Guignard told AFP.
 
Polls closed at midday and most in the wealthy Alpine nation had already voted by mail.
 
The gfs.bern polling institute reported that the early trend indicated a win for the “Yes” camp.
 
Eight cantons including major population centres like Geneva, Zurich and Basel voted to approve the measure with two small cantons voting “No”, final results showed.
 
A change to citizenship laws requires a constitutional amendment, meaning the Yes side needs to win both a majority of votes and a majority of Switzerland's 26 cantons.
 
Sunday's referendum is one of four each year for voting on subjects affecting federal as well as local laws and institutions.
 
The No camp faced heavy criticism over a widely-distributed poster showing a woman staring out from a black niqab with a tagline urging voters to reject “uncontrolled citizenship”.
 
The SVP is not officially responsible for the poster.
 
It was commissioned by the Committee Against Facilitated Citizenship, which has several SVP members including in leadership positions.
 
The co-chair of that committee and an SVP lawmaker, Jean-Luc Addor, urged people to vote against the measure on grounds that one day most third generation immigrants will not be of European origin.
 
“In one or two generations, who will these third generation foreigners be?” he wrote in an opinion piece on the SVP website.
 
“They will be born of the Arab Spring, they will be from sub-Saharan Africa, the Horn of Africa, Syria or Afghanistan,” said Addor, who has defended the niqab poster.
 
Guignard said mainstream politicians and journalists view the poster as “a violent attack against Muslims”.
 
Political initiatives that either directly or implicitly target Muslims may be on the rise in the West, notably including US President Donald Trump's travel ban against seven mainly Muslim countries, which was undone in court this week.
 
But in Switzerland such moves are nothing new.
 
The SVP in 2009 successfully persuaded Swiss voters to approve a ban on new mosque minaret construction, while religiously-charged messages have been a part of multiple referendums on immigration since.
 
Polls before the vote indicated a win for proponents of the citizenship measure but the No camp had gained ground in recent weeks.
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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about Swiss language tests for residency

The language standards for permanent residency is different than that for citizenship. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about Swiss language tests for residency

Whether granting permanent residency or citizenship, whether you are ‘successfully integrated’ is the major question for Swiss authorities. 

Being successfully integrated means that they “should participate in the economic, social and cultural life of society”, according to the State Secretariat for Migration.

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

Speaking a Swiss language is crucial. While you will not need to speak a Swiss language when you arrive, you will need to demonstrate a certain degree of language proficiency in order to stay long term. 

However, the level of language proficiency differs depending on the type of residency permission you want: residency permit, permanent residency or Swiss citizenship. 

This is outlined in the following table.

Image: Swiss State Secretariat for Migration

Image: Swiss State Secretariat for Migration

What does proficiency in a Swiss language mean?

Proficiency in a Swiss language refers to any of the major Swiss languages: Italian, German, French and Romansh. While Romansh is also a Swiss language, it is not spoken elsewhere and is only spoken by a handful of people in the canton of Graubünden. 

There are certain exceptions to these requirements for citizens of countries where these languages are spoken, as has been outlined here

English, while widely spoken in Switzerland, is not an official language of Switzerland and English proficiency will not grant you Swiss citizenship. 

Moving to Switzerland, it may appear you have three world languages to choose from, although by and large this is not the case. 

As the tests are done at a communal level, the language in the commune in question is the one you need to speak

Therefore, if you have flawless French and live in the German-speaking canton of Schwyz, you need to improve your German in order to make sure you pass the test. 

While some Swiss cantons are bilingual, this is comparatively rare at a municipal level. 

A Swiss Federal Supreme Court case from 2022 held that a person is required to demonstrate language proficiency in the administrative language of the municipality in which they apply, even if they are a native speaker of a different Swiss language. 

What Swiss language standards are required for a residency permit?

Fortunately for new arrivals, you do not need to show Swiss language proficiency. 

Generally speaking, those on short-term residency permits – such as B Permits and L Permits – are not required to show proficiency in a national language. 

There are some exceptions – for instance people on family reunification permits – however by and large people who have just arrived in Switzerland for work do not need to demonstrate language proficiency. 

What Swiss language standards are required for permanent residency?

While ‘permanent residency’ might sound like ‘residency permit’, it grants a far greater set of rights for the holder – and with it a more extensive array of responsibilities. 

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

One of these obligations is Swiss language proficiency. 

For ordinary permanent residency – which is granted after an uninterrupted stay of five years or ten years in total – you need to demonstrate A2 level of a spoken Swiss language and A1 written. 

Citizens of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain are exempt from these language requirements. 

For fast-tracked permanent residency, the language level is a little higher. 

You must demonstrate A1 written but B1 spoken. 

There are also exceptions for people who can demonstrate they have a Swiss language as their mother tongue, or that they have attended compulsory schooling for a minimum of three years in a Swiss language. 

Demonstrating language proficiency must be done through an accredited test centre. The accreditation process is handled at a cantonal level. More information is available here

What Swiss language standard is required for citizenship?

The standard is slightly higher for citizenship than for permanent residency. 

Candidates must demonstrate A2 level writing ability and B1 spoken skills. This is the level set out in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

These rules, which came into effect on January 1st, 2019, set up a uniform minimum level of language proficiency required on a federal basis. 

Previously, there was no consistency in language testing, with many cantons in the French-language region making a judgment based on the candidate’s oral skills.

Cantons are free to set a higher bar if they wish, as Thurgau has done by requiring citizenship candidates to have B1-level written German and B2 (upper intermediate) spoken German. The rules are also stricter in St Gallen and Schwyz. 

More information is available at the following link. 

Naturalisation: How well must I speak a Swiss language for citizenship?

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