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INTEGRATION

Am I eligible for Swiss citizenship?

Do you live in Switzerland or have Swiss ancestry? You may be eligible for Swiss citizenship.

Am I eligible for Swiss citizenship?
The Swiss national flag is seen through a glass roof flying on top of the Swiss House of Parliament in Bern on May 20, 2020. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Switzerland does not make it easy to become a citizen – a fact evidenced by the approximately 25 percent of Swiss residents who are not citizens. 

But while the process is difficult, it’s not impossible.

For more specific information, read our essential guide on becoming a Swiss citizen. 

How to apply for Swiss citizenship: An essential guide 

As with all matters of citizenship, residency and entry to Switzerland, please consult official advice and/or the State Secretariat of Migration for more information

Who is eligible for Swiss citizenship? 

People in three broad categories are eligible for Swiss citizenship. Firstly and most commonly, people who are born in Switzerland will be eligible. 

Secondly, people can become Swiss citizens through marriage. 

Finally, Swiss citizenship can be obtained through naturalisation. 

Citizenship through birth

Switzerland, like many other European countries, does not grant citizenship purely on the basis of location of birth – meaning that being born in Switzerland will not confer Swiss citizenship on that basis alone. 

Instead, it is the nationality of the parents – and particularly the mother or whether the parents are married – which will be relevant.  

If the mother is Swiss, the child will attain Swiss citizenship regardless of whether the parents are married. 

If the mother is not Swiss, but the parents are married and the father is Swiss, the child will also obtain citizenship. 

If the mother is not Swiss and the parents are unmarried, the father will need to acknowledge that he is the father of the child in order to confer citizenship. This will need to take place before the child reaches 22. 

TAKE THE TEST: Would you pass Switzerland's citizenship exam?

Marriage

For anyone with no Swiss family ties, marriage – sometimes known as facilitated naturalisation – is the quickest way to Swiss citizenship. 

Foreigners who are married to either a Swiss citizen or a person eligible for Swiss citizenship through their parents but who has not yet claimed citizenship can apply. 

For foreign spouses, you will generally need to have been married for at least three years and to have lived in Switzerland for at least five years in total, including for the 12 months leading up to submitting your application.

Here, the test is relatively simple: Applicants must also show they abide by Swiss law and order, pose no threat to the country's internal or external security, and (here's where it gets subjective) be well integrated – a broad term that covers your participation in Swiss economic, social and linguistic life.

Unlike with the naturalisation process, there are no additional steps which differ from canton to canton – although cantons can appeal a decision to grant someone citizenship. 

Foreigners married to a Swiss citizen who don’t live in Switzerland can also apply, provided the marriage is at least six years old and the other person had Swiss citizenship before the marriage became official. 

According to official statistics just over a quarter of the 44,141 naturalisations in 2018 were facilitated – i.e. through marriage. 

Why move to Switzerland? Well, the flag is a big plus. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Naturalisation 

Naturalisation, otherwise known as ‘ordinary naturalisation’ to distinguish it from facilitated naturalisation, allows people who have no blood ties to Switzerland to become Swiss. 

To do so, an applicant must now have lived in Switzerland for ten years (it was previously 12) or less if you spent your adolescence here, with each year from the ages of eight to 18 counting double (although there must be a minimum of six actual years). 

Applicants must have a C residence permit (before, other permit holders could also apply). Applicants must also show they abide by Swiss law and order, pose no threat to the country's internal or external security, and (here's where it gets subjective) be well integrated – a broad term that covers your participation in Swiss economic, social and linguistic life. 

Since 2018 there is 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 – although it can be stricter in certain cantons. 

With ordinary naturalisation, it is usually down to the cantons and communes to tell federal authorities how integrated they think an applicant is, though the federal law stipulates a number of obligations, including the requirement that you encourage your family members to integrate, too.

READ: The Swiss cantons with the strictest citizenship requirements

This is where it gets a little tricky.

Cantons vary significantly in their subjective tests of ‘integration’. As The Local Switzerland has covered previously, this can lead to absurd results, take for example an Italian man’s failure to accurately describe the living arrangements of bears and wolves at the local zoo as a reason his application was rejected. 

With 26 different cantons, it is best to check with your specific cantonal authority to get a better idea of the process. 

READ MORE: Stricter rules approved for Swiss citizenship after canton referendum 

Third-generation immigrants

Another way to become a Swiss citizen is if you are a third-generation immigrant. While technically this is a form of facilitated naturalisation (see ‘marriage’ above) rather than ordinary  naturalisation, as it doesn’t relate directly to marriage it is discussed here. 

Third-generation immigrants can become Swiss citizens if they are born in Switzerland, are between nine and 25, have had at least five years of schooling in Switzerland and hold a minimum of a ‘C’ residence permit. 

There are also additional requirements for the parents and grandparents. The parents need to have lived in Switzerland for more than ten years, had five years of schooling in Switzerland and have a residence permit, while at least one of the grandparents must either be Swiss or have a residence permit. 

Swiss citizens can hold two passports, and many do. In fact around one in six people in the country are now dual nationals. This means you will only lose your other nationality if the country of that citizenship does not recognise dual nationality.

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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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