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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

ZURICH

EXPLAINED: How Zurich has simplified the Swiss citizenship process

Voters in the Swiss canton of Zurich on May 15th approved a proposal to simplify naturalisation requirements for the canton's 350,000 foreigners. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How Zurich has simplified the Swiss citizenship process

On May 15th, voters in the Swiss canton of Zurich overwhelmingly approved a proposal to simplify the canton’s naturalisation process for foreigners. 

Several questions were on the ballot, including reduced fees for younger people who pursue Swiss citizenship, longer waiting times for those convicted of criminal offences and a shift towards online naturalisation. A summary of the results can be seen here

For foreigners living in Zurich and wanting to acquire the famous red passport, perhaps the most important question on the ballot was making the requirements uniform on a cantonal basis, rather than allowing them to differ from municipality to municipality, as is the current case. 

Here’s what you need to know. Please note that while Zurich voters approved the changes, as at May 16th they have not been formally implemented. 

‘Uniform basic requirements’ for citizenship flagged

While anyone who is successfully naturalised will get the same famous red passport no matter where they do so, the actual process differs dramatically depending on where you do it. 

The primary naturalisation process takes place at a communal level, which means there can be different requirements from municipality to municipality. 

With 26 cantons, four official languages and century after century of tradition, these traditions and cultural quirks have had plenty of time to ferment and develop. 

As The Local has covered several times before, this includes a knowledge test about specifics in the local commune which often leads to absurd consequences, while in some places local villagers and neighbours will have a say on whether a person should receive citizenship. 

People have been knocked back for a range of reasons, including not liking hiking, not knowing enough about local zoo animals, not knowing enough about cheese and just not being deserving enough.  

READ MORE: The ten most surprising questions on Switzerland’s citizenship exam

Recognising the difficulties, the Swiss government in 2018 revised the Civil Rights Act, which included uniform basic requirements for citizenship. 

The cantons however retain a degree of flexibility when it comes to implementing the rules, which is why they are being put to a vote on May 15th. 

Basic knowledge test

Each naturalisation process includes a basic knowledge test. 

The tests are carried out at a municipal level and vary from place to place, prompting Swiss national broadcaster SRF to report in 2017 that Switzerland “has as many naturalisation procedures as there are municipalities”. 

Zurich, Switzerland’s most populous canton, has 162 municipalities. While it might be a slight exaggeration to say there are 162 unique tests, the questions can vary greatly. 

The May 15th vote standardised the process by establishing a basic knowledge test for the entire canton. 

The test includes 350 questions about Swiss history, tradition, politics and culture, with a focus on Zurich. 

Anyone taking the test will be given 50 questions at random and must answer at least 30 correctly to pass. 

What other requirements were up for a vote on May 15th?

In addition to the above, there are three other changes forecast as part of the new rules. 

People under 18 will face tighter rules for naturalisation if they are found guilty of a crime. 

Referendum: Zurich to vote on lower voting age

According to the new law, juveniles will not be able to apply for naturalisation for two years after a minor crime (i.e. shoplifting, simple bodily harm, property damage) or for five years for major crimes (i.e. robbery, murder, rape). 

The changes will also lay the groundwork for naturalisation processes to take place online. A handful of cantons including Bern and Vaud already do this, but no such online system is established in Zurich. 

Finally, the law will also reduce the cost for younger people to apply for citizenship. 

More information is available here. 

What did the parties say before the vote?

Although polling was minimal, the changes have won widespread support among Swiss political parties. 

All of the major Swiss political parties support the change, with only the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) opposed. 

Writing in the Swiss press, the SVP’s Diego Bonato suggested multicultural Zurich should have tighter naturalisation rules than the rest of the country rather than the other way around to ensure proper integration. 

“The higher the multicultural proportion of the population, the more closely you have to pay attention to naturalisation” 

While the SVP is Switzerland’s largest and most popular political party, it has comparatively lower influence in Zurich. 

The Social Democrats, who hold the mayorship in the city, are in favour of the proposal and hit back at suggestions it did not promote integration. 

“The new citizenship law is shaped by the idea that early and rapid naturalisation promotes integration. However, citizenship should be the the end of successful integration, not the beginning.”

“Foreigners who wish to remain in our country permanently and become part of Swiss society must society, must (still) undergo an integration process lasting several years.”

Who was able to vote?

Much like Switzerland’s men taking until the 1970s to decide whether women should get the vote, it is perhaps a paradox that foreigners’ fates will be put to a vote without their input. 

Only Swiss citizens have the right to vote in the most cases, although there are limited voting rights in some cases at a municipal level in some parts of the country. 

Efforts to provide similar rights in Zurich have continued to stall. 

Around one quarter of Zurich’s population do not have the right to vote, although it can be as high as 50 percent in some municipalities. 

Approximately 1.5 million people live in Zurich. 

More information about voting in Zurich, including details about the upcoming referendum votes, can be found here. 

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