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I thought I was Swiss? How being mistaken as a national can put you on the road to citizenship

I thought I was Swiss? How being mistaken as a national can put you on the road to citizenship
Being Swiss might be a state of mind. Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP
Do you feel Swiss? People who genuinely believe they are Swiss citizens but are not get a shorter road to citizenship. Here's what you need to know.

While this situation is probably not very common, it must happen from time to time, because the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) lists this scenario on its website under the heading “People erroneously treated as Swiss citizens”.

SEM doesn’t specify under what circumstances such a mix-up could occur and go unnoticed by the authorities for any length of time, especially since each person officially living in Switzerland is registered with his or her commune of residence.

In a well-organised and decentralised country of just over 8.6 million people, it is not that difficult to keep track of everyone.

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

This is what SEM says:

“If you have believed for at least five years in good faith that you are a Swiss citizen, and during this period the cantonal or communal authorities have in fact treated you as a Swiss citizen, you can apply for simplified naturalisation”.

The key phrase here is “in good faith.” In other words, you would only qualify for simplified naturalisation if you did not set out to intentionally deceive the authorities.

“You must genuinely have been completely unaware that you are not in fact a Swiss citizen”, SEM points out.

“Your belief that you are a Swiss citizen must have arisen from or been confirmed by the conduct of a cantonal or communal authority towards you. This conduct must not be open to interpretation. It arises in particular if the authority has issued you with identity documents stating that you are a Swiss national, even though in reality you are not”.

SEM doesn’t provide statistics about how many people have found themselves in this situation, or what happens if someone is found to pretend they are citizens when they know they are not.

Assuming no cheating was involved and the person eventually finds out he or she is not a citizen, they are allowed to apply for simplified naturalisation — a process normally open only to spouses of Swiss citizens or third-generation immigrants.

All the others must go through the ‘ordinary’ citizenship process, which is longer and has stricter criteria.

While naturalisation requirements are established by the federal government, cantons can set their own additional conditions.

READ MORE: Will Swiss-born foreigners be granted automatic citizenship?


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