That’s the tentative verdict of an analysis carried out by the Tages Anzeiger newspaper to examine why the number of Swiss citizenship applications dropped so dramatically in the first six months of this year.
The number of people applying for facilitated (or simplified) naturalization – a process usually open to the foreign spouses and children of Swiss citizens – was a third lower from January to June compared to the previous two years.
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At the same time, the number of people applying for ordinary (or regular) naturalization was seriously down in the French-speaking cantons of Geneva and Vaud.
New citizenship rules
This year, Switzerland introduced a raft of new rules, many of which make it even tougher for foreigners living in the country to obtain to citizenship.
Under the new rules, applicants for Swiss citizenship must show A2 level (elementary) writing ability and B1 level (intermediate) spoken skills under the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
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.
In the German-speaking cantons of Basel, Bern and Zurich, where tougher language requirements have already been in force for a number of years, the number of citizenship applications remained steady in the first six months of this year.
But in French-speaking cantons like Vaud and Geneva where the new language tests replace less demanding linguistic requirements, citizenship application numbers are down.
Exams "scare people off"
There is further evidence the new tests may be putting people off: when Zurich introduced new language requirements in 2015, citizenship applications fell by 16.5 percent with authorities saying at the time the drop was due to the tests.
While Nathalie Riem from Geneva’s migration department said it was too early to say why numbers were down, she said the higher language requirements “could be a reason”.
And language teacher Luca Cirigliano said that while many people were fully capable of passing the tests, exams “scare people off”.
In recent years, cities including Basel and Zurich, and cantons such as Geneva and Vaud, have called on foreigners to apply for citizenship, partly in anticipation of a toughening up of rules.
Numbers continued to rise up to end of 2017 in the German-speaking cities but have only dropped off in the two cantons in the French-speaking part of the country since then.