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NATURALISATION

How dual citizenship has become easier to obtain in Switzerland

With nearly a million dual nationals living in Switzerland, it is difficult to imagine that at one time maintaining two citizenships was illegal in this country.

How dual citizenship has become easier to obtain in Switzerland
Dual nationalities are allowed in Switzerland since 1992. Photo by AFP

Foreigners who wanted to become naturalised in Switzerland before 1992, had no choice but to give up their old passport.

Dual citizenship was not legal, which may explain why less than 8,000 foreigners a year were naturalised between 1987 and 1992.

According to a report by SRF public broadcaster, the winds of change started to blow in the early 1990s. The Berlin wall had fallen and Europe was in upheaval. The European Community, the predecessor of the European Union, planned to move closer together politically and economically. 

Against this background, Swiss business associations had pressured the Federal Council for more openness.

“They feared disadvantages with regard to a common European economic area if Switzerland continued to ban dual citizenship”, SRF said.

READ MORE: What we know about dual nationals living in Switzerland

But in 1992, Switzerland passed a new civil rights law. One of the changes was the recognition of dual citizenship.

As a result, the number of naturalisations rose rapidly. They doubled to more than 10,000 within a year and continued to go up in the following years: from almost 13,000 in 1993 to 37,000 a decade later, and over 42,000 in 2018.

Interestingly, even though Switzerland is often slow to change, the country was one of the pioneers in Europe in recognising dual citizenship, SRF’s report noted.

Germany, for example, has only accepted dual citizenship since 1999 and in principle only for citizens of other EU countries or Switzerland.

Austria still doesn’t allow dual nationality —apart from special cases. And anyone who wants to become a Liechtenstein citizen must also hand in their old passport.

 

READ MORE: Switzerland tops rankings for ability to attract most talented workers

Today, people aged 15 or over with dual citizenship represent 18 percent of Switzerland’s permanent resident population – 967,000 people in total. 

Most come from neighbouring countries: 24 percent from Italy, 12 percent from France, and 9 percent from Germany.

Where do most dual nationals live?

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

How did they obtain second citizenship?

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. 

 

 

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GENEVA

What do we know about Geneva’s dual citizens?

The most international of Switzerland’s cantons and cities — 46 percent of Geneva residents are dual citizens — people who obtain the Swiss passport while still maintaining the nationality of their place of origin.

What do we know about Geneva's dual citizens?
Most of Geneva’s bi-nationals come from the EU. Photo by François WALSCHAERTS / POOL / AFP

With over 200 international organisations — including the United Nations agencies and numerous NGOs — located on its territory, it is understandable that about 40 percent of Geneva’s permanent population of just over 620,000 is foreign. 

And 46 percent of the Swiss population aged 15 or over residing in Geneva has dual nationality, by far the highest rate in the country, according to both federal and cantonal statistics.

This chart from the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) shows that Geneva is far ahead of other cantons in the number of bi-nationals.

Why do so many people opt for two passports?

The most obvious benefit of dual citizenship is the ability to live and vote in both countries, without having to give up any rights in either.

These numbers pertain only to those living permanently in Geneva— that is, they don’t include the 90,000 cross-border commuters employed in the canton.

This is what we know about these bi-nationals

Not surprisingly, given Geneva’s proximity to France and its linguistic similarity, most bi-nationals living in the canton — 27 percent — are also French citizens, according to the Cantonal Statistics Office (OCSTAT).

They are followed by Italians (17 percent), and Spanish and Portuguese (both 9 percent).

Birth versus naturalisation

Being born in Switzerland doesn’t mean the person is automatically Swiss.

If their parents were born abroad and hold only foreign passports, a person will not obtain Swiss citizenship by birth. 

Even though they have lived their entire lives in Switzerland, they have the same nationality as their parents and will continue to be considered as foreigners – until and unless they become naturalised.

In Geneva’s case, 63 percent of bi-nationals were naturalised, while 37 percent have had Swiss nationality from birth and obtained a second one later, according to OCSTAT.

READ MORE: Have your say: Tell us about getting citizenship in Switzerland

The French in Geneva stand out for their high proportion of dual nationals by birth (60 percent). For Italians and Spanish, the shares of dual nationals by birth are 38 percent and 34 percent, respectively.

The Portuguese were the last to immigrate to the canton, so the number of dual nationals by birth in this community is only 10 percent. The same is true for other countries of recent immigration.

How does Geneva compare with the rest of Switzerland?

As the chart above shows, at 46 percent, Geneva has the largest proportion of dual nationals.

Vaud is next (30 percent), followed by Ticino (28 percent), Basel-City (25 percent) and Zurich (23 percent).

Nationwide, Italians make up the bulk of dual nationals (23 percent), ahead of the French (12 percent), and Germans (8 percent).

READ MORE: Naturalisation through marriage: How your partner can obtain Swiss citizenship

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