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NATURALISATION

IN NUMBERS: Where do Switzerland’s dual nationals live?

The share of people in Switzerland who have two passports has grown in the past decade, a new study shows.

IN NUMBERS: Where do Switzerland's dual nationals live?
Nearly a million people in Switzerland have a Swiss passport in addition to a foreign one. Photo by AFP

In 2019 — the most recent year for which official numbers are available —19 percent of permanent residents aged 15 or over had dual nationality, according to a study released last week by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO). 

This number equates to nearly a million people out of Switzerland’s population of 8.6 million.

When foreigners gain citizenship of their country of residence while still maintaining the nationality of their place of origin, they become known as ‘dual nationals'.

Both countries consider these people as their citizens and neither regards them as foreigners.

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.

READ MORE: IN NUMBERS: How Switzerland’s population is becoming increasingly multilingual 

This is what we know about dual nationals in Switzerland:

Among this population, 65 percent obtained Swiss nationality though naturalisation, while 35 percent obtained it at birth.

More than half — 55 percent — of the country's dual nationals come from Europe.

The second nationality most represented among the population with two citizenships is Italian (24 percent), followed by French (11 percent) and German nationality (9 percent).

The highest number of dual nationals live in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.

Most are in Geneva (45 percent) and Vaud (30 percent); next are Ticino (28 percent), Basel-City (25 percent) and Zurich (23 percent).

READ MORE: How dual citizenship has become easier to obtain in Switzerland 

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. 

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

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

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.


 

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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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