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Citizenship: How personal debt could stop you from becoming Swiss

Credit cards laid out next to an open laptop
Are you in debt? If so, it might put your chances of Swiss citizenship in doubt. Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash
Switzerland imposes strict criteria for obtaining a citizenship or even a settlement permit. Financial responsibility plays a huge role.

Foreign nationals in Switzerland must fulfil a number of conditions for naturalisation, including the length of residency, language skills, and degree of integration into Swiss society.

Perhaps a lesser known but similarly important requirement is financial stability, as two recent examples cited by Swiss media have shown.

How to apply for Swiss citizenship: An essential guide

One concerns a 28-year-old man from Winterthur in canton Zurich, who was born to a Franco-Swiss mother and a Lebanese father.

He was mistakenly considered to be Swiss all his life, but the error was caught in 2015 when the man tried to renew his passport and the authorities discovered that he is not registered in the digital database of citizens.

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

The man’s attempts to apply for a facilitated naturalisation were thwarted due to his difficult financial situation: between 2011 and 2017, he accumulated 60,000 francs in debt and also has several pending court proceedings.

Another case in point is a 45-year-old German man in Zurich who applied for a permanent settlement permit C after having lived in Switzerland since 2011. The required length of stay in Switzerland for a citizen of a EU state is five years, so in this regard the man was eligible for a C-permit.

However, both his request and subsequent court appeals were denied because the man has not worked since 2014 and has accumulated around 75,000 francs in debt.

What does the law say?

While the amount of money owed is not specifically mentioned in the Foreign Nationals and Integration Act (FNIA), it does set “successful integration” as one of the conditions for obtaining Swiss citizenship.

State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) defines integration as “personal responsibility”, self-sufficiency, and participation in the country’s economy.

Having considerable debts that are not being paid off indicates lack of all the above-mentioned qualities.

READ MORE: What does being ‘successfully integrated’ in Switzerland mean?

In its handbook on naturalisation, SEM notes that “compliance with Swiss law is measured in particular by an exemplary financial reputation”.

SEM goes on to list non-payment of taxes, health insurance premiums, fines, rents, or accumulation of debt as valid reasons for denying citizenship.

And there is more

Foreign nationals could see their permits downgraded or cancelled altogether if they receive social benefits. which is taken to mean that these individuals are not self-sufficient and don’t contribute to Switzerland’s economy — the very opposite of what authorities expect of candidates for naturalisation.

Foreign welfare recipients are also excluded from applying for Swiss citizenship if they had been on social assistance in the three years prior to their application.

An exception is made , however, if the benefits are paid back in full.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How applying for social benefits could see your Swiss work permit cancelled

As naturalisation statistics are kept by individual cantons, no national data is available to show how many people had their naturalisation requests denied because of debts and other financial problems.

By the way, the notion of integration, or lack thereof, sometimes includes factors other than financial stability.

These links list other reasons that various cantons used to deny citizenship to their foreign residents.

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Woman refused Swiss citizenship after responding ‘uh’ over 200 times in interview


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