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Living in Switzerland For Members

Why Swiss naturalisation is ‘easier for highly qualified people’

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Why Swiss naturalisation is ‘easier for highly qualified people’
If you want to become Swiss, a good education or set of qualifications is the key factor. Photo by Prateek Mahesh on Unsplash

Professional people have an easier path to naturalisation in Switzerland, while experience and country of origin are also important factors. Here's what you need to know.

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In principle, foreigners who have lived in Switzerland for at least 10 years, have a permanent residence C permit, speak a national language of the region in which they live, and are socially integrated, can obtain Swiss citizenship.

But in reality, the process is often more subjective and less straight forward.

OPINION: Why it's almost impossible for foreigners to become fully integrated Swiss citizens

'Easier for highly qualified people'

What is clear is that your country of origin and your level of education are the major factors underpinning naturalisation in Switzerland. 

“Naturalisation procedure has become easier for highly qualified people, while the hurdles are now higher than they used to be for the less educated”, Walter Leimgruber, president of the Federal Migration Commission said in an interview with SRF public broadcaster.

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Another factor that plays a role is the country of origin. Official statistics for 2020, for instance, show that roughly 30 percent of those who have been naturalised that year come from European nations, while only six percent are from Africa, Asia and the Americas. 

Image: Federal Statistical Office

Germany versus Sri Lanka

As an example, SRF cites the canton of Lucerne, where almost twice as many Germans received Swiss citizenship in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of naturalised people from Sri Lanka fell by three quarters.

“Anyone who comes from Africa, Arab countries, or Sri Lanka often has no chance", according to Felix Kuhn, head of Lucerne’s naturalisation commission.

The effects of this selection process could be problematic in the long term, Leimgruber said.

“This leads to a two-class society. Certain immigrants have found that citizenship remains unattainable and they feel unwelcome. As a result, they become resigned and indifferent” and don't even try to integrate into Swiss society.

Leimgruber is calling for the naturalisation criteria to become less strict, especially in regards to language exams, as “these tests disadvantage uneducated people”.

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

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Facts behind the statistics

However, the SRF report doesn’t go into details about why fewer candidates from outside Europe become naturalised.

That’s because the number of immigrants from third-nations, including from Asian and African countries mentioned in the report, is considerably lower than from EU / EFTA states.

The latter enjoy easier access to Switzerland due to the Free Movement of Persons agreement the country has with the European Union.

Third-country nationals, on the other hand, don’t have these privileges.

Another factor, experience, has also been shown as crucial, particularly in management roles. 

According to an official government site, “only qualified non-EU/EFTA nationals, for example managers, specialists or university graduates with several years of professional experience, may work in Switzerland”. 

For Non-EU/EFTA nationals, however, including people from the UK and US “the number of permits issued is limited”.

And as unskilled and uneducated people from third countries have a much more difficult path to a permanent work / residency permit, their chances of obtaining Swiss citizenship are lower as well.

READ MORE: Nine things you need to know about work permits in Switzerland

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