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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

Call for Swiss MPs and senators to disclose dual nationality

Politicians in the Swiss national parliament with dual citizenship should be forced to reveal details of what passports they hold in order to boost transparency, a parliamentary commission has found.

Call for Swiss MPs and senators to disclose dual nationality
A file image of the Swiss Federal Assembly. Photo: AFP

The joint Political Institutions Committee of the upper and lower houses on Tuesday voted in favour of an initiative that would see politicians obliged to provide details of all the passports they hold. This is currently not the case. 

The vote came in response to a motion put forward by Marco Chiesa, an MP with the right-wing and anti-EU Swiss People's Party. He argued that the duties of disclosure spelled out in the Federal Act on the Federal Assembly should be extended to include details of the passports held by MPs and senators. 

Read also: Increasingly international – number of Swiss dual nationals soars

In his motion, Chiesa said it was in the interest of voters to know the nationalities of elected representatives as this could influence their voting behaviour on key issues. He cited the example of senators and MPs with EU passports who enjoyed the privileges of EU citizenship. 

The motion will now have to be voted on in both houses of the Swiss parliament. 

A consolation prize

Tuesday’s vote is something of a consolation prize for Chiesa who had previously called on the law to be changed so that parliamentarians could only hold a Swiss passport. That motion was rejected. 

The issue of dual nationality and politicians originally came up during the Federal Council elections of 2017, where two of the candidates were dual citizens. Current Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis voluntarily gave up his Italian citizenship while fellow candidate Pierre Maudet, who failed to be elected to the cabinet and now finds himself embroiled in an expenses scandal, said he would give up his French passport if he was voted in. 

Read also: Swiss democracy 'is failing country's foreign population'

Dual nationality for Swiss citizens became legal in 1992 and nearly one in four Swiss nationals now holds a second passport but the issue is not without controversy. 

The SVP has periodically called for the right to dual nationality for Swiss people to be either limited or scrapped, arguing that the holding of two passports can mean reduced loyalty to Switzerland. 

However, Swiss people with dual citizenship are currently not excluded from sensitive positions within the police force or from border security roles. They can even work as diplomats for Switzerland. 

For members

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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