Politics For Members

EXPLAINED: Why so few third-generation Swiss are actually 'Swiss'?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: Why so few third-generation Swiss are actually 'Swiss'?
What does it mean to be Swiss?. Photo by Valeriano de Domenico/AFP

Getting a Swiss passport is not an easy process. Even some who were born in Switzerland and have lived here their entire lives aren't citizens. Here's why.


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, a person will not obtain Swiss citizenship at birth. 

Even though they were born in Switzerland, have lived their entire lives in Switzerland and consider themselves to be Swiss, they have the same nationality as their parents and will continue to be considered as foreigners – until and unless they become naturalised.

There are some motions in the parliament filed by the Social Democratic and Green MPs in favour of at-birth citizenship for the second generation, but so far nothing has come out of these attempts.

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


On the other hand, since February 15th, 2018, foreigners born in Switzerland and whose grandparents already lived here — the so-called ‘third-generation' — can become naturalised more easily.

However, according to a new report by the Federal Commission for Migration (SEM), out of about 25,000 people in this category, only 1,847 received their Swiss passports at the end of 2020.

That’s because “the obstacles to be overcome are so high that the legal requirements are impossible to meet”, the report states. “Thus, it is clear that facilitated naturalisation is not actually easier for the third generation, but rather more difficult”.

In all, the study found that access to Swiss nationality for this population group is unreasonably bureaucratic, as in many cases proof required for this process to be successful is difficult to obtain.

READ MORE: Why your Swiss citizenship application might be rejected – and how to avoid it 

What documentation is required?

SEM has set the following criteria for facilitated third-generation naturalisation:

  • At least one grandparent was born in Switzerland and can be proven to have acquired a right of residence here.
  • At least one parent has acquired a permanent residence permit, has lived for at least 10 years in Switzerland, and attended compulsory schooling in Switzerland for at least five years.
  • The applicant was born in Switzerland and holds a permanent residence permit.
  • The applicant completed compulsory schooling for at least five years in Switzerland.
  • The applicant successfully integrated.
  • The application is submitted before the 25th birthday.

If the application is submitted after the applicant’s 25th birthday but otherwise meets all the requirements, they can apply for simplified naturalisation until February 15th, 2023 provided they will still be under the age of 40 on that date.

So what’s the problem?

The study points out that documentation relating to grandparents could be difficult to obtain if they are deceased and no family records can be found.

And many parents who arrived in Switzerland later in life did not meet the five years of compulsory schooling  criteria, so eligibility for citizenship under this rule “is a real obstacle”, according to the study.

“For third-generation foreigners, the administrative burden inherent in the current procedure is unfairly high: while they themselves meet all the criteria, their application for naturalisation depends above all on the residence status of their parents” , the report points out.

“This reality frustrates many applicants, who then prefer to interrupt their facilitated naturalisation procedure. From then on, their sense of belonging to Swiss society is affected”.


This is what the report concluded

“By erecting almost insurmountable obstacles, legislators  are accused of wanting to prevent as many people as possible from accessing their political rights”, according to the study.

“For Swiss democracy, however, this is a very disastrous signal", it added.

To make the third-generation citizenship easier to obtain, the study’s authors suggest a less restrictive procedure, including scrapping the age requirement for applicants, and simplifying rules relating to proof of grandparents' residence in Switzerland as well as parents’ school attendance.

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



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