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Reader question: Will my children get a Swiss passport if born in Switzerland?

Obtaining Swiss citizenship is not a simple matter even if you are born here, as there are many obstacles to overcome. This is what you should know about the complex process of naturalisation.

Reader question: Will my children get a Swiss passport if born in Switzerland?
Foreigners have to jump through hoops to become Swiss citizens. Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

It is natural that people who are settled in Switzerland would want their children to have a Swiss citizenship.

Unlike many other countries, however, merely being born in Switzerland doesn’t mean the person is Swiss.

If their parents were born abroad and still hold foreign passports, children will not obtain Swiss citizenship at birth. 

This may sound unfair to someone coming from, say, the United States, but Switzerland doesn’t recognise so-called “birthright citizenship” which automatically grants a Swiss passport to anyone born here.

Even though the kids have lived their entire lives here 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.

Some Swiss politicians and political parties, most notably the Social Democrats, are pushing for a relaxation of the rules, however at present they remain in place. 

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

Who is entitled to a Swiss passport at birth?

Children born to Swiss-citizen parents, or at least one parent who is Swiss, will be automatically considered citizens of Switzerland. Called “acquisition by descent”, it applies to babies born in Switzerland as well as those born abroad.

A foreign child adopted by Swiss parent(s) will get Swiss citizenship as well.

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

What happens if both parents are foreign nationals?

There are several scenarios to consider if you would like your child (or future child) to be Swiss.

If you don’t have children yet but permanently reside in Switzerland with a C permit, you could apply for naturalisation after living in the country for 10 years.

How to apply for Swiss citizenship: An essential guide

If this sounds simple enough — it isn’t. There are a number of exceptions and nuances involved in this process (called “ordinary naturalisation”), which are outlined on this government site.

If you become naturalised before the child is born (even if you still retain the citizenship of your former country), then he or she will be automatically Swiss at birth.

In the event that the child was born before you could get naturalised, you can apply for citizenship as a family, under the same criteria as outlined on the government site.

However, this process should be undertaken while the child is still a minor; after they turn 18, they would have to apply for naturalisation by themselves.

What if I moved to Switzerland when my children were already born?

If two non-citizens move to Switzerland when their children were already born, naturalisation is the means through which they may be able to gain citizenship. 

While normally you will need to be in Switzerland for ten years to apply, years between the ages of 8 and 18 count as double, meaning that a child could effectively apply after five years. 

As outlined above, if you want to help your children gain Swiss citizenship, it is best to kick off the process well before they turn 18, otherwise they will need to do so themselves. 

What about citizenship for the third generation?

A proof of the complexity of the country’s naturalisation process is that even the third-generation residents have to jump through hoops to get their Swiss passports.

On paper, foreigners born in Switzerland and whose grandparents already lived here can obtain their citizenship more easily — the so-called “simplified  naturalisation”.  In reality, however, the procedure is full of obstacles and not at all simple.

According to the Federal Commission for Migration (FMC), out of about 25,000 people in this category, only 1,847 received their Swiss passports at the end of 2020.

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

That’s because “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 — if, for instance, grandparents are deceased and the family hasn’t kept any records.

 FMC recently drew a disappointing assessment of a facilitated naturalisation process for the third-generation foreigners.

This is one of the reasons why we have such a large foreign presence in Switzerland: because the law makes access to naturalisation particularly difficult”, according to Rosita Fibbi, migration sociologist at the University of Neuchâtel.

“Many countries have introduced simpler procedures for people born there… this is not the case in Switzerland”, she added.

EXPLAINED: Why ‘simplified’ Swiss naturalisation is actually not that simple

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OPINION: ‘Eidgenosse’ and what does it really mean to be Swiss?

Whoever is in the possession of a Swiss passport is considered to be Swiss. But as Serbian-born, Swiss national Sandra Sparrowhawk explains, things are not always quite so simple in reality.

OPINION: 'Eidgenosse' and what does it really mean to be Swiss?

It was a mild spring day in the quaint town of Reiden and I was sat in the garden of a fellow student’s lush family home surrounded by around one third of my class.

All born to Swiss parents. All, but me. At the time, we were in the last leg of our apprenticeship and everyone mutually decided to kick off our imminent graduation and the much anticipated start to our adult lives with a celebratory barbecue. Everything was going smoothly. The sun was out, the food was being prepped, the conversation was flowing, jokes were being made. But it is as they say, all good things must come to an end.

Now in my time being Swiss, I’ve been all too aware of this sobering reality. I had learned it the hard way through the years and this day was no different. As I looked down to devour the last of my Bratwurst, I heard it clearly – “Jugo”. A disparaging term widely used in Switzerland to describe citizens of former Yugoslavia. My classmates turned friends had – unbeknown to them – made a joke at my expense. Laughter soon erupted. I remember looking up with an awkward half-smirk only to be met with confusion as the last of the giggles died down. The host turned to me and asked: “What’s the matter with you”?

The matter with me, as it turns out, is not so easily explained. Not even 15 years following the event, nor 32 years into being Swiss. Back then, a veil had been lifted and behind it was me. Uncomfortable, deeply conflicted, Serbian me.

But my story isn’t unique to me. It is one that is shared by many Swiss citizens with a migration background.

‘Anyone can be Swiss’

It was the year 2010 when Aarberg-born wrestler Christian Stucki declared: “Anyone can become Swiss, but not anyone can become Eidgenosse”. The latter term is occasionally used to refer to native Swiss citizens, as opposed to those having obtained citizenship via the second-rate passport route. Stucki’s daring declaration rightfully earned him some heat back in 2010 and his manager was quick to retaliate. But the question remains, when is one truly considered Swiss, and is there some truth in Stucki’s statement?

What does it mean to be Swiss? Photo by Valeriano de Domenico/AFP

This debate enjoyed a brief stint on the political stage. In 2012, a parliamentarian from Switzerland’s largest political party, SVP Schweiz, demanded that the Zurich authorities divide Swiss citizens into two groups: naturalised and those Swiss since birth. The purpose behind this proposal was to enable Swiss authorities to highlight key differences, such as a higher crime rate or a disproportionate receipt of social assistance in naturalised citizens, and hence offer aid where needed. Or so was the claim.

Despite the change never seeing the light of day, the divisive terminology largely used to differentiate between native and non-native Swiss citizens persists and can, for many Swiss with a migration background, be a hard pill to swallow.

What’s in a word?

The term Eidgenosse means different things to different people and is by no means accompanied by a negative connotation at all times. To some Swiss, it simply serves as a reference for outstanding Swiss wrestlers. To others, it describes nothing more than a down-to-earth Swiss citizen – of any background. Still others associate the term with an old army bicycle, or even a local pub. Yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, the use of the term Eidgenosse is particularly favoured in extreme right-wing and nationalistic circles and hence runs the risk of reinforcing an already-existing distinction between the “true Swiss” and everyone else.

Today, the distinction is often used in certain circles and in rural Switzerland, where a few select people have taken it upon themselves to divide Swiss citizens even further.

More specifically, they have introduced an unofficial three-level division, which differentiates not only between native and non-native Swiss, but divides citizens into three categories: Secondos (naturalised Swiss), Swiss (naturalised for at least two generations and fluent in a Swiss dialect), and lastly, Eidgenossen (Swiss citizens on Swiss soil since the beginning of their family chronicle). The latter is nearly impossible to prove.

Meanwhile, linguistics suggest that a term such as Eidgenosse, meant to differentiate between people, is usually born whenever a need for such a differentiation arises, be it increased crime rates, concealment of mass immigration or wage dumping. However, it is commonly understood that these divisive terms should never become a fixed part of common usage.

A ‘typically Swiss’ dog breed: the Bernese mountain dog. (Photo by Alexandra Lau on Unsplash)

Whenever I hear the word Eidgenosse, I think of the year 1291, when, according to legend, the three confederates of Central Switzerland – Uri, Schwyz and Nidwalden – founded the Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft with the Rütli oath. Those three gentleman and their kinsmen and women born before 1798, when Napoleon destroyed the Old Confederation, are the sole claimants to the title Eidgenosse. Everyone else should be judged on a case by case basis – preferably with DNA papers to hand.

As for me, I consider myself as Swiss as they come. I was born in Switzerland, grew up here, my closest friends are Swiss, I speak German and French without so much as a hint of an accent, I am most at home speaking in Aargauerdüütsch, enjoyed my education here, work here, take part in Swiss traditions and celebrations, and fulfil all other civic duties expected of a Swiss citizen. I even adopted two Bernese Mountain Dogs for good measure. Yet, whenever my maiden name comes up in conversation – Micić – I am treated as an outsider. Non-Swiss. It is a reality I’ve come to live with, though I shouldn’t have to.

To return to my question from before, when is one considered truly Swiss? Well, to keep it simple: when one feels Swiss and that is entirely up to you.