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POLITICS

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

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.

EXPLAINED: Why so few third-generation Swiss are actually 'Swiss'?
For some people born in Switzerland, the road to citizenship is full of obstacles. Photo by Valeriano de Domenico/AFP

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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POLITICS

‘Colossal’: World leaders meet in Switzerland for Ukraine recovery conference

Leaders from dozens of countries, international organisations and the private sector gathered in Switzerland Monday to hash out a "Marshall Plan" to rebuild war-ravaged Ukraine.

‘Colossal’: World leaders meet in Switzerland for Ukraine recovery conference

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who will take part virtually, warned Sunday that the work ahead in the areas that have been liberated alone was “really colossal”.

“And we will have to free over 2,000 villages and towns in the east and south of Ukraine,” he said.

The two-day conference, held under tight security in the picturesque southern Swiss city of Lugano, had been planned well before Russia launched its full-scale invasion on February 24.

It had originally been slated to discuss reforms in Ukraine, but once the Russian bombs began to fall it was repurposed to focus on reconstruction.

As billions of dollars in aid flows into Ukraine, however, lingering concerns about widespread corruption in the country mean far-reaching reforms remain in focus and will be a condition for any recovery plan decided here. 

‘Roadmap’

Lugano is not a pledging conference, but will instead attempt to lay out the principles and priorities for a rebuilding process aimed to begin even as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to rage.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Switzerland Artem Rybchenko said ahead of the conference that it would help create “the roadmap” to his country’s recovery.

Zelensky had initially been scheduled to come and co-host the event alongside his Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis, but now he is due to give his address Monday afternoon via video link.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has however made a rare trip out of Ukraine since the war began to attend, and was met at the airport Sunday by Cassis and regional leaders.

Five other government ministers were also among the around 100 Ukrainians who made the long and perilous journey, although Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reportedly had to cancel at the last moment due to illness.

In all, around 1,000 people were scheduled to participate in the conference, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, several government chiefs and numerous ministers. 

‘Marshall Plan’

Questions have been raised about the value in discussing reconstruction when there is no end in sight to the war.

But Robert Mardini, director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, told the RTS broadcaster that while the reconstruction itself could only happen fully after the bombs have stopped, it is vital to give “a positive perspective to civilians who have lost their homes, and who are struggling with anxiety and uncertainty for the future”.

Others stress the need to begin laying the groundwork well in advance, as was done with the wildly successful Marshall Plan, a US initiative that pumped vast sums in foreign aid into Western Europe to help the continent rebuild and recover after World War II.

The task is daunting.

Rebuilding Ukraine, which four months into the war has already seen devastating destruction, is expected to cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

The effort will require “colossal investments”, Zelensky acknowledged at the weekend.

Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) has estimated the damage done so far to buildings and infrastructure at nearly $104 billion.

It estimated that at least 45 million square metres of housing, 256 enterprises, 656 medical institutions, and 1,177 educational institutions had been damaged, destroyed or seized, while Ukraine’s economy had already suffered losses of up to $600 billion. 

Could last decades 

Simon Pidoux, the Swiss ambassador in charge of the conference, said that it was too early to try to estimate all the needs, insisting Lugano instead should provide “a compass” for the work ahead.

“I think the effort will last for years if not decades,” he said.

While not a donor conference, a number of participants are expected to make new pledges and propose frameworks for providing more funds.

The European Investment Bank will for instance propose the creation of a new Ukraine trust fund, which with investments from EU and non-EU states could eventually swell to 100 billion euros, according to sources familiar with the draft plans.

The proposal, which is due to be announced Monday afternoon, aims to create a platform able to generate investment towards reconstruction, and also towards Ukraine’s EU accession goals, they said.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is meanwhile due to set out her country’s vision for the rebuilding, according to a statement. In her comments to the conference Monday, she is expected to highlight the importance of Ukraine’s full recovery from “Russia’s war of aggression”. That, she will say, will be “a symbol of the power of democracy over autocracy.”

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