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Woman refused Swiss citizenship after responding ‘uh’ over 200 times in interview

An Iraqi woman, who despite living in Switzerland for 20 years and being well integrated, was denied citizenship in the canton of Schwyz after it emerged she responded "uh" over 200 times in the citizenship interview.

Woman refused Swiss citizenship after responding 'uh' over 200 times in interview
An Iraqi woman claim for citizenship rejected based on her language skills. Photo credit: Be.Angeled/Depositphoto.com
The unnamed woman and her Iraqi husband have been living in Ingenbohl in the canton of Schwyz for 20 years. Her husband received the Swiss passport after two attempts, but her application was refused, Swiss media outlet TheBlick.ch reports.
 
The mother of two children is well integrated into the community, joined the local Samaritan Association and has the required geographical and national political knowledge.
 
But at the naturalization authority in Ingenbohl in the canton of Schwyz, a recording of her interview revealed she said 'uh' over 200 times when asked questions. The authorities concluded that her German language skills were not up to scratch.
 
After being rejected by her local canton, the woman took her case to the Swiss Federal Court. She claimed the recordings of the interview were taken without her consent.
 
 
The Judge's Verdict
 
In delivering the verdict, the federal court judge agreed that there were concerns about the recording of minutes, but that the authorities had the power to take them.
 
The judge stated: “The community arbitrarily agreed that the complainant required the language skills.” 
 
Photo: AndreyPopov/Depositphoto.com
 
The Iraqi woman presented a language diploma from the Vocational Training Centre Pfäffikon SZ. However, the judge ruled that employees at the centre were not in a position to judge her linguistic level accurately based on the evidence presented.
 
 
The woman's work with the Samaritan Association was overlooked. The judge stated it would be difficult to imagine how the woman could play such an active role in the community if she did not have the level of German required.
 
Unless the local canton decides to grant the woman citizenship she will have to improve her language skills before reapplying.
 
You must speak the local language to be in with a chance
 
Decent language skills have always been necessary for Swiss citizenship but requirements used to vary depending on the canton. But under the 2018 changes, there is now a required minimum level of language proficiency. Candidates must demonstrate A2 level writing ability (elementary) and B1 (intermediate) spoken skills under the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
 
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.
 
Note that you are exempt from having to prove your language competency if your native language is one of the Swiss national languages, or if you have done five years of compulsory schooling in Switzerland or if you have a secondary school leaving certificate or tertiary qualification completed in a Swiss national language.
 

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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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