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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

How Switzerland’s Social Democrats want to introduce ‘citizenship by birth’

Swiss citizenship could be made much easier to achieve under a new set of rules by the country’s Social Democrats, including allowing citizenship by birth in a manner similar to the United States and France.

A picture of a Swiss passport up close
Will Switzerland introduce relaxed rules for citizenship? Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Switzerland’s Social Democrats want to relax Switzerland’s tough naturalisation and citizenship rules to allow “citizenship by birth”, potentially providing an easier path to citizenship for more than a million Swiss residents. 

In an interview with Swiss media, MP Paul Rechsteiner said ‘jus soli’ – the principle where a person can acquire citizenship by birth, should be introduced in Switzerland. 

Rechsteiner, Switzerland’s longest-serving parliamentarian, says the country’s sizeable foreign population – which is estimated to be at around 25 percent – are excluded from the democratic process. 

READ MORE: How to apply for Swiss citizenship: An essential guide

“Switzerland today is a three-quarter democracy. A quarter of the people have a foreign passport. They are excluded from civil rights.”

“Anyone who is born in a country, grows up here, works, spends his life, i.e. is part of the economy and society, should also have the appropriate rights as a citizen. That is a democratic and human rights principle.”

Currently, even third generation immigrants face barriers to citizenship in Switzerland, which has one of the tightest citizenship regimes in Europe. 

COMPARE: Which European countries have the toughest rules for gaining citizenship?

Rechsteiner however said rules would be put in place to prevent “birth tourism”.

“Birth tourism is not meant by jus soli”, Rechsteiner said, pointing to a proposal from Germany whereby one parent must live in the country for five years before citizenship can be bestowed. 

Rechsteiner said the Social Democrats wanted to phase out township citizenship, i.e. where the ultimate citizenship decisions are made at a municipal level. 

“Township citizenship is a relic from the state’s early years. The main thing was to regulate who is responsible for the citizens when they became poor, that is, were dependent on support,” he said 

“That is long gone. Today this system is no longer up to date, and it is also unfair.”

“In eastern Switzerland in particular, it is unfortunately the case that it often depends on the municipality whether you get the passport or not. 

“There are those who are very open about this. And others who do everything to prevent naturalisation.”

As The Local has reported previously, there are a myriad of examples where citizenship decisions made at a municipal level have led to absurd results. 

People have been knocked back for not knowing about animals in the local zoo, for not liking hiking and for not remembering the correct year that 18th-century landslides took place. 

READ MORE: The nine most surprising questions on Switzerland’s citizenship exam

How likely is this plan? 

While the Social Democrats are one of Switzerland’s major parties, such a plan is likely to encounter some resistance, particularly from the far-right Swiss People’s Party who have consistently advocated for a tough naturalisation framework. 

Rechsteiner cited the fight for women’s suffrage as an example of how these difficulties might be overcome. 

“When it came to women’s suffrage, it seemed impossible for a long time in Switzerland to change anything,” he said. 

Women did not receive the right to vote in Switzerland until 1971, while they did not have full voting rights in all Swiss cantons until 1990. 

“That is too little for our self-image to be a proud democracy. We finally need a citizenship that reflects Switzerland and is suitable for the future.”

Member comments

  1. I don’t know where folks keep getting the idea that citizenship is “easy” in the US. Except for the whole “being born in the US makes you a citizen” thing, getting a green card and citizenship is a very difficult and expensive process (there’s a reason folks go there illegally, and not for “birth tourism,” which is more of a right wing BS talking point).

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For members

SWISS CITIZENSHIP

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about Swiss language tests for residency

The language standards for permanent residency is different than that for citizenship. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about Swiss language tests for residency

Whether granting permanent residency or citizenship, whether you are ‘successfully integrated’ is the major question for Swiss authorities. 

Being successfully integrated means that they “should participate in the economic, social and cultural life of society”, according to the State Secretariat for Migration.

Reader question: What does being ‘successfully integrated’ in Switzerland mean?

Speaking a Swiss language is crucial. While you will not need to speak a Swiss language when you arrive, you will need to demonstrate a certain degree of language proficiency in order to stay long term. 

However, the level of language proficiency differs depending on the type of residency permission you want: residency permit, permanent residency or Swiss citizenship. 

This is outlined in the following table.

Image: Swiss State Secretariat for Migration

Image: Swiss State Secretariat for Migration

What does proficiency in a Swiss language mean?

Proficiency in a Swiss language refers to any of the major Swiss languages: Italian, German, French and Romansh. While Romansh is also a Swiss language, it is not spoken elsewhere and is only spoken by a handful of people in the canton of Graubünden. 

There are certain exceptions to these requirements for citizens of countries where these languages are spoken, as has been outlined here

English, while widely spoken in Switzerland, is not an official language of Switzerland and English proficiency will not grant you Swiss citizenship. 

Moving to Switzerland, it may appear you have three world languages to choose from, although by and large this is not the case. 

As the tests are done at a communal level, the language in the commune in question is the one you need to speak

Therefore, if you have flawless French and live in the German-speaking canton of Schwyz, you need to improve your German in order to make sure you pass the test. 

While some Swiss cantons are bilingual, this is comparatively rare at a municipal level. 

A Swiss Federal Supreme Court case from 2022 held that a person is required to demonstrate language proficiency in the administrative language of the municipality in which they apply, even if they are a native speaker of a different Swiss language. 

What Swiss language standards are required for a residency permit?

Fortunately for new arrivals, you do not need to show Swiss language proficiency. 

Generally speaking, those on short-term residency permits – such as B Permits and L Permits – are not required to show proficiency in a national language. 

There are some exceptions – for instance people on family reunification permits – however by and large people who have just arrived in Switzerland for work do not need to demonstrate language proficiency. 

What Swiss language standards are required for permanent residency?

While ‘permanent residency’ might sound like ‘residency permit’, it grants a far greater set of rights for the holder – and with it a more extensive array of responsibilities. 

EXPLAINED: What’s the difference between permanent residence and Swiss citizenship?

One of these obligations is Swiss language proficiency. 

For ordinary permanent residency – which is granted after an uninterrupted stay of five years or ten years in total – you need to demonstrate A2 level of a spoken Swiss language and A1 written. 

Citizens of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain are exempt from these language requirements. 

For fast-tracked permanent residency, the language level is a little higher. 

You must demonstrate A1 written but B1 spoken. 

There are also exceptions for people who can demonstrate they have a Swiss language as their mother tongue, or that they have attended compulsory schooling for a minimum of three years in a Swiss language. 

Demonstrating language proficiency must be done through an accredited test centre. The accreditation process is handled at a cantonal level. More information is available here

What Swiss language standard is required for citizenship?

The standard is slightly higher for citizenship than for permanent residency. 

Candidates must demonstrate A2 level writing ability and B1 spoken skills. This is the level set out in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

These rules, which came into effect on January 1st, 2019, set up a uniform minimum level of language proficiency required on a federal basis. 

Previously, there was no consistency in language testing, with many cantons in the French-language region making a judgment based on the candidate’s oral skills.

Cantons are free to set a higher bar if they wish, as Thurgau has done by requiring citizenship candidates to have B1-level written German and B2 (upper intermediate) spoken German. The rules are also stricter in St Gallen and Schwyz. 

More information is available at the following link. 

Naturalisation: How well must I speak a Swiss language for citizenship?

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