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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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Zurich approves simplified path to Swiss citizenship

Voters in Switzerland’s most populous canton on Sunday approved a proposal which will make it easier for foreigners to get Swiss citizenship.

Zurich approves simplified path to Swiss citizenship

The vote passed with 69.1 percent support, making it the most popular of the four initiatives put to the polls. 

Around 350,000 foreigners live in Zurich, which is roughly one quarter of the population – although the percentage is as high as 50 percent in some municipalities. 

The successful proposal called for Zurich’s naturalisation process, including the citizenship exam, to be made uniform across all 162 municipalities. 

The questions in the exam will now be centralised on a cantonal level. 

The test will include 350 questions about Swiss history, tradition, politics and culture, with a focus on Zurich. 

Anyone taking the test will be given 50 questions at random and must answer at least 30 correctly to pass. 

More information about the citizenship process in Zurich can be found at the following link. 

EXPLAINED: How Zurich wants to make naturalisation easier

What else was decided on Sunday? 

Voters in Zurich also decided to reject a proposal to lower the voting age to 16, with 64.1 percent saying ‘nein’ to the proposal. 

A proposal to provide for more parental leave – and even up gender imbalances between fathers and mothers – was also rejected. 

Finally, voters supported law changes which sought to enshrine Zurich’s climate change goals in the cantonal constitution. 

A detailed breakdown of the vote can be seen here.