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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

EXPLAINED: All you need to know about dual nationals in Switzerland

Switzerland allows its citizens to hold more than one nationality since 1992. Now almost one in five people aged 15 or over has both a Swiss and a foreign passport.

EXPLAINED: All you need to know about dual nationals in Switzerland
FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Which regions have the highest number of dual nationals?

According to figures from the Federal Statistical Office, Geneva has the highest proportion — 46 percent — of residents who have another passport in addition to the Swiss one.

The rate exceeds 20 percent in Zurich, Basel, Ticino, Vaud and Neuchâtel.

The cantons with the lowest number of dual nationals (less than 10 percent) are Uri, Obwalden, Nidwalden and Appenzell Innerrhoden.

Nearly a quarter of Italians have a Swiss citizenship, followed by the French (12 percent), and Germans (9 percent).

Additionally, there were 1,029 UK citizens and 711 from North America who obtained a Swiss passport in 2018.

How did these people acquire Swiss nationality?

Among the population with a second passport, 65 percent acquired Swiss nationality by naturalisation, while 35 percent obtained it at birth.

Obtaining Swiss citizenship as a second nationality involves the same process as any regular naturalisation: foreigners must live in the country for at least 10 years, be integrated, obey the laws, respect national values, and be fluent in at least one national language.

People who have Swiss spouses, have lived in Switzerland at least five years, or are third-generation foreigners can usually benefit from a facilitated naturalisation, which is simpler and quicker than the regular process. 

What are the benefits of being a dual citizen?

Foreigners who are not naturalised do not have the same rights as Swiss citizens — for example, they can’t vote.

But when they become citizens, they can have their say in how the country’s politics is shaped.

Also, according to a government study, dual nationality favours economic and cultural integration, which means better access to well paying jobs.

And even though these people may have some responsibilities toward their native countries — for example, military service — the study says that their allegiance and loyalty toward Switzerland are very strong.

Can dual citizens be stripped of their Swiss nationality?

Only in extreme cases. Earlier this year, a Swiss-French woman had her citizenship revoked because she took her two young daughters to live in the Islamic State (ISIS) enclave in Syria without the knowledge of their respective fathers.

According to the State Secretariat for Migration, Swiss citizenship rights could be lost due to “actions regarded as seriously detrimental to the interests or the reputation of Switzerland”, such as an act of treason or terrorism. 

Are there instances of dual nationals giving up their foreign passports voluntarily?

In the past decade, thousands of Americans living in Switzerland have renounced their US citizenships to avoid paying taxes in the United States. 

The US is the only industralised country that taxes its citizens on their worldwide income, and this financial burden has prompted some Americans to give up their US passports.

Another case involves cabinet member Ignazio Cassis who gave up his Italian passport before his election to the Federal Council in 2017. The Ticino politician explained this move by saying he did not want to be accused of having allegiance to two countries.

Although his intention was noble, many criticised Cassis’s decision, saying he “disowned” his roots for political opportunism.

READ MORE: How to apply for Swiss citizenship: An essential guide
 

 

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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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