EXPLAINED: Why a Swiss woman is being stripped of her citizenship

A woman from Switzerland is losing her Swiss nationality —an extremely rare event in the country. Why has this happened and what are the consequences of this drastic measure?

EXPLAINED: Why a Swiss woman is being stripped of her citizenship

In 2016, the unnamed woman, who was born and raised in Geneva, took her two young daughters to live in the Islamic State (ISIS) enclave in Syria without the knowledge of their respective fathers.

Why is depriving this woman of her passport important to Swiss authorities?

If she is irrevocably stripped of her citizenship (the woman can appeal the decision within 30 days), she will not be allowed to return to Switzerland. For authorities this means she would not pose a security threat within the country.

However, the government said that its efforts to bring the two children back to Geneva would continue.

Can the government strip any Swiss citizen of their nationality?

Stripping someone of their citizenship is only possible if the person has a second nationality. Otherwise Switzerland would create stateless people, an act prohibited by international law. The woman in question also has a French passport.

Under what circumstances can a citizenship be revoked?

Swiss citizenship rights could be lost due to “actions regarded as seriously detrimental to the interests or the reputation of Switzerland”, according to the State Secretariat for Migration. 

An example would be an act of treason or terrorism.

Have there been many cases of the government stripping a Swiss person of citizenship?

The last ‘mass’ expatriations took place in this country between 1940 and 1947, when 80 Swiss nationals were deprived of their citizenships because they collaborated with the Nazis.

In 1952, the possibility of expatriation was incorporated into the new civil rights law.

However, it had not been applied until 2019, when a Turkish-Swiss dual national lost his Swiss citizenship after being convicted by the Federal Criminal Court for being an ISIS member. So, the Geneva woman is only the second person to have her passport revoked in over 70 years.

Do other nations also have similar laws?

According to the Migration Policy Institute, more than 130 countries around the world have such legislation on the books, including 19 EU members. 

However revocations of citizenship are still relatively rare.



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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?