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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

Brit denied Swiss citizenship after ‘failing raclette question’

A British citizen has been denied the Swiss passport because he incorrectly answered several questions at a citizenship interview – including one about the origins of the cheese dish raclette.

Raclette - a typical Swiss dish.
How much do you know about Raclette? Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

The 43-year-old British citizen*, attended a citizenship interview at his local town hall in Freienbach in the canton of Schwyz, where he has lived since 2011.

Read also: Swiss passport named fifth ‘most powerful’ in the world

The British national, who does not want to be named had been told in advance that the meeting would be “relaxed talk”. He had already completed the mountain of paperwork necessary for his citizenship application and had passed a demanding written test in early 2017, achieving a score of over 80 percent.

The Brit also grew up in Switzerland. He attended a local school in the French-speaking canton of Vaud, speaks fluent French and German, and understands Swiss German.

“I feel Swiss – very much so. This is my home,” he told The Local.

But the interview in March proved to be a gruelling experience as he and his six-year-old son were interrogated for an hour by around eight people from the local citizenship committee.

“My son passed with flying colours, but I got some questions about politics wrong and one about where raclette [a cheese dish from the canton of Valais] comes from,” he said.

Among the political questions he didn’t answer correctly was one about direct democracy and another about Switzerland’s system of part-time politicians. He also failed to identify the ingredients of capuns, a dish from the canton of Graubünden made with chard, dried meat and noodle dough.

Read also: Ten things you need to know about the Swiss political system

These incorrect answers were enough to see both his and his son’s citizenship applications rejected and his outlay of 3,200 francs forfeited.

“The irony is they gave my son a present at the end of the interview – a fridge magnet with the commune’s coat of arms,” he noted wryly.

The man expressed his frustration about the citizenship process.

“I had already passed the written test and shown I understand the Swiss political system and society so I don’t know why they were testing me again at the interview,” he said.

 “From day one, when I went to pick up the forms, there was a great degree of animosity, with the woman at the town hall speaking to me very loudly and very quickly in Swiss German. You are dealing with people who want to make things difficult for you,” he told The Local.

“The fact that I had my six-year-old son next to me during the interview is also indicative of the degree of interrogation,” he added.

He was keen to stress he respects how things are done in Switzerland and lives by the rule of ‘when in Rome’. But he also said that the process had affected him at an emotional level.

“I respect the laws of this country. I am a business person living in Switzerland. I pay taxes here and I employ Swiss people. But it all seems a little bit arbitrary. I think they are looking for signs of non-integration,” he explained.

The man also believes there is a broader issue at stake.

“This affects a lot of people and is a reflection on society. Do you want people to integrate or do you want to make it too painstaking and expensive for them?” he asked.

“I didn’t want to go public but I am not an isolated case. There must be lots of other people who were just as shocked as I am when they failed the test but we don’t know their stories,” he said.

Read also: How to apply for Swiss citizenship in 2018

*The man’s name has been withheld at his request. 

For members

ZURICH

EXPLAINED: How Zurich has simplified the Swiss citizenship process

Voters in the Swiss canton of Zurich on May 15th approved a proposal to simplify naturalisation requirements for the canton's 350,000 foreigners. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How Zurich has simplified the Swiss citizenship process

On May 15th, voters in the Swiss canton of Zurich overwhelmingly approved a proposal to simplify the canton’s naturalisation process for foreigners. 

Several questions were on the ballot, including reduced fees for younger people who pursue Swiss citizenship, longer waiting times for those convicted of criminal offences and a shift towards online naturalisation. A summary of the results can be seen here

For foreigners living in Zurich and wanting to acquire the famous red passport, perhaps the most important question on the ballot was making the requirements uniform on a cantonal basis, rather than allowing them to differ from municipality to municipality, as is the current case. 

Here’s what you need to know. Please note that while Zurich voters approved the changes, as at May 16th they have not been formally implemented. 

‘Uniform basic requirements’ for citizenship flagged

While anyone who is successfully naturalised will get the same famous red passport no matter where they do so, the actual process differs dramatically depending on where you do it. 

The primary naturalisation process takes place at a communal level, which means there can be different requirements from municipality to municipality. 

With 26 cantons, four official languages and century after century of tradition, these traditions and cultural quirks have had plenty of time to ferment and develop. 

As The Local has covered several times before, this includes a knowledge test about specifics in the local commune which often leads to absurd consequences, while in some places local villagers and neighbours will have a say on whether a person should receive citizenship. 

People have been knocked back for a range of reasons, including not liking hiking, not knowing enough about local zoo animals, not knowing enough about cheese and just not being deserving enough.  

READ MORE: The ten most surprising questions on Switzerland’s citizenship exam

Recognising the difficulties, the Swiss government in 2018 revised the Civil Rights Act, which included uniform basic requirements for citizenship. 

The cantons however retain a degree of flexibility when it comes to implementing the rules, which is why they are being put to a vote on May 15th. 

Basic knowledge test

Each naturalisation process includes a basic knowledge test. 

The tests are carried out at a municipal level and vary from place to place, prompting Swiss national broadcaster SRF to report in 2017 that Switzerland “has as many naturalisation procedures as there are municipalities”. 

Zurich, Switzerland’s most populous canton, has 162 municipalities. While it might be a slight exaggeration to say there are 162 unique tests, the questions can vary greatly. 

The May 15th vote standardised the process by establishing a basic knowledge test for the entire canton. 

The test includes 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. 

What other requirements were up for a vote on May 15th?

In addition to the above, there are three other changes forecast as part of the new rules. 

People under 18 will face tighter rules for naturalisation if they are found guilty of a crime. 

Referendum: Zurich to vote on lower voting age

According to the new law, juveniles will not be able to apply for naturalisation for two years after a minor crime (i.e. shoplifting, simple bodily harm, property damage) or for five years for major crimes (i.e. robbery, murder, rape). 

The changes will also lay the groundwork for naturalisation processes to take place online. A handful of cantons including Bern and Vaud already do this, but no such online system is established in Zurich. 

Finally, the law will also reduce the cost for younger people to apply for citizenship. 

More information is available here. 

What did the parties say before the vote?

Although polling was minimal, the changes have won widespread support among Swiss political parties. 

All of the major Swiss political parties support the change, with only the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) opposed. 

Writing in the Swiss press, the SVP’s Diego Bonato suggested multicultural Zurich should have tighter naturalisation rules than the rest of the country rather than the other way around to ensure proper integration. 

“The higher the multicultural proportion of the population, the more closely you have to pay attention to naturalisation” 

While the SVP is Switzerland’s largest and most popular political party, it has comparatively lower influence in Zurich. 

The Social Democrats, who hold the mayorship in the city, are in favour of the proposal and hit back at suggestions it did not promote integration. 

“The new citizenship law is shaped by the idea that early and rapid naturalisation promotes integration. However, citizenship should be the the end of successful integration, not the beginning.”

“Foreigners who wish to remain in our country permanently and become part of Swiss society must society, must (still) undergo an integration process lasting several years.”

Who was able to vote?

Much like Switzerland’s men taking until the 1970s to decide whether women should get the vote, it is perhaps a paradox that foreigners’ fates will be put to a vote without their input. 

Only Swiss citizens have the right to vote in the most cases, although there are limited voting rights in some cases at a municipal level in some parts of the country. 

Efforts to provide similar rights in Zurich have continued to stall. 

Around one quarter of Zurich’s population do not have the right to vote, although it can be as high as 50 percent in some municipalities. 

Approximately 1.5 million people live in Zurich. 

More information about voting in Zurich, including details about the upcoming referendum votes, can be found here. 

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