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NATURALISATION

IN NUMBERS: How many people become Swiss each year – and where do they come from?

Around a quarter of Swiss residents are foreign. Where do they come from - and how many become Swiss each year?

IN NUMBERS: How many people become Swiss each year - and where do they come from?
Swiss passport can be obtained by immigrants and Swiss-born foreigners. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

The naturalisation procedure applies to those who come from abroad as well as to people who were born in Switzerland to foreign parents.

In Switzerland, the naturalisation rate of foreign nationals who hold residence permit is two percent, according to Federal Statistical Office (FSO).

The rate is twice as high for people born in Switzerland than for those born abroad.

In 2019, the last year for which statistics are available, just over 41,000 foreigners received their Swiss passports. This number is slightly lower than in 2017 (about 45,000) and 2018 (42,5000).

Overall, the naturalisation rate among immigrants has been steady in the past decade, FSO said. There was, however, a small increase of 0.5 percent among people born in Switzerland.

Unlike many other countries, being born in Switzerland doesn’t automatically mean the person is Swiss if their parents were born abroad and still hold foreign passports.

Have there been any changes in the past decade?

The changes are more perceptible in the countries of origin of naturalised citizens.

As the chart below shows, at the beginning of the decade, most came from Italy and ex-Yugoslavia. Only a tiny percentage of those who obtained Swiss citizenship came from Germany.

In 2019, the percentage of Germans grew exponentially, becoming the largest group of naturalised immigrants in Switzerland.

And while fewer Italians became naturalised in 2019 than in 2000, the number of Portuguese tripled, and there have been more people from France who became Swiss as well.

Where in Switzerland are immigrants naturalised most often?

The highest rates are in Geneva, Zurich, Zug and Vaud, where, coincidentally or not, the largest proportion of international residents live.

Fewest passports were granted in Nidwalden, Appenzell Innerrhoden, and Obwalden, according to National Center of Competence in Research (nccr – on the move, Migration-Mobility Indicators).

Of those who were naturalised, 19 percent — nearly a million people out of Switzerland’s population of 8.6 million – had dual nationality.

This means they became Swiss while still maintaining the nationality of their place of origin.

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

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

In all about 38 percent of Switzerland’s permanent resident population (2,7 million people) has a migration background. More than a third of this population (992,000) has Swiss nationality. 

FSO defines ‘migration background’ as “foreign nationals, naturalised Swiss citizens, except for those born in Switzerland and whose parents were both born in Switzerland, as well as Swiss citizens at birth whose parents were both born abroad”. 

READ MORE: Golden visas’: How multi-millionaires are ‘buying’ Swiss residency permits

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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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