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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

EXPLAINED: Can Swiss citizenship be revoked – and can you get it back?

Foreigners living in Switzerland are more interested in how to obtain a Swiss passport rather than worry about having it withdrawn. Is losing a citizenship really a thing?

EXPLAINED: Can Swiss citizenship be revoked - and can you get it back?
You can't do this if you lose your Swiss citizenship. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Imagine being a proud owner of a hard-to-come-by red passport with a white cross, and then having it nullified. Can this nightmare scenario really happen?

Yes and no.

If you are a citizen of Switzerland and no other country — in other words, you have no dual nationality — then no matter what terrible things you do, your passport is safe.

That is because stripping someone of their citizenship is only possible if the person has a second nationality. Otherwise, Switzerland would create stateless people, an act prohibited by international law.

This applies regardless of whether these people are Swiss from birth or through naturalisation.

However, if you are a citizen of Switzerland and another country, you could lose your Swiss passport for offences which are much more serious than merely not recycling your trash or mowing your lawn on Sunday.

As the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) explains it, “dual nationals can have their Swiss citizenship revoked if their conduct is seriously detrimental to Switzerland’s interests or reputation”.

One example of when such a drastic and irrevocable step can be taken is in the case of people convicted of war crimes, terrorism, or treason.

Have there been any cases of the government stripping a Swiss person of citizenship?

‘Mass’ expatriations took place in this country between 1940 and 1947, when 80 Swiss nationals were deprived of their citizenships because they collaborated with the Nazis.

More recently, in 2019, a Turkish-Swiss dual national lost his Swiss citizenship after being convicted by the Federal Criminal Court for being a member of Islamic State (ISIS).

The last such case, in 2020, involves a woman who was born and raised in Geneva but also has a French passport in addition to a Swiss one. She took her two young daughters to live in the ISIS enclave in Syria without the knowledge of their respective fathers.

In both these cases, authorities revoked their citizenships, banning them from returning to Switzerland and possibly posing a security threat within the country.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, more than 130 countries around the world have such legislation on the books, including 19 EU members. 

This basically means that whichever country of citizenship revokes the passport first, the other has no choice but to take in the law breaker.

In the case of a Geneva woman, the Swiss beat the French to the punch.

There are also other situations when citizenship can be lost:

Lying during naturalisation

If a foreigner provides false information or conceals important facts during the naturalisation procedure, they run the risk that their naturalisation will be revoked.

This is possible for up to eight years after naturalisation, according to SEM.

The agency doesn’t publish data about how many people have been caught fibbing, but the message is clear: don’t do it

Automatic loss

According to SEM, a child born abroad of a Swiss parent and who has another nationality, automatically loses Swiss citizenship at the age of 25, unless they have been registered with a Swiss authority or have declared in writing that  they wish to maintain  their Swiss nationality.

Citizenship can also be renounced voluntarily (don’t ask us why)

Swiss citizens living abroad who are also nationals of another country  can apply to their nearest Swiss foreign representation to be relieved of their Swiss citizenship, SEM says. “The application will be passed on via the State Secretariat for Migration SEM to the authority responsible for the relief of Swiss citizenship in the person’s canton of origin”.

READ MORE: Which Swiss cantons have the strictest citizenship requirements?

Can Swiss citizenship be reinstated?

In certain cases, yes, although this process is neither easy nor quick.

Basically you can qualify for reinstatement under the same conditions as if you apply for citizenship in the first place.

These are SEM’s criteria:

  • Be successfully integrated if you live in Switzerland;
  • Have close ties with Switzerland if you live abroad;
  • Show respect for public security and order;
  • Show respect for the values enshrined in the Federal Constitution; and
  • Not pose a threat to Switzerland’s internal or external security.

If you lost your Swiss citizenship less than 10 years ago, you can apply for reinstatement irrespective of whether you live abroad or in Switzerland.

After this period, you can only apply for reinstatement if you have been living continuously in Switzerland for at least three years with the intention of remaining here permanently in accordance with the law on foreign nationals.

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

However, you can’t get your citizenship back if your naturalisation has been nullified or if your Swiss citizenship has been revoked — in both cases for reasons mentioned above.

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

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For members

SWISS CITIZENSHIP

Switzerland revokes citizenship for ‘unfair and deceptive behaviour’

A woman who gained a Swiss passport through marriage has had her citizenship revoked after she divorced - just one of the reasons that Swiss nationality can be removed from foreigners.

Switzerland revokes citizenship for ‘unfair and deceptive behaviour’

Married in 2010 to a Swiss man 15 years her senior, a Moroccan woman became naturalised through the facilitated process in 2015, but separated from her husband just months later.

As soon as the couple divorced in 2017, the woman remarried in Lebanon, raising suspicions among Swiss authorities about the ulterior motives behind her marriage in Switzerland.

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

According to media reports on Monday, “after inquiring into the circumstances of the couple’s breakup” and concluding that the woman married expressly to get a Swiss passport,  the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) revoked her naturalisation.

She appealed the decision, first to an administrative court, and then to Switzerland’s highest judicial authority, the Federal Court. Both have upheld SEM’s decision.

“The SEM may cancel the facilitated naturalisation obtained by false statements or by the concealment of essential facts”, the federal judge ruled, adding that the woman obtained her citizenship through “disloyal and deceptive behaviour”.

While this may seem like a rare occurrence, in fact it is not.

On average, SEM revokes close to 50 naturalisations each year following a divorce.

But there are also other circumstances when the government can strip someone of Swiss citizenship.

As The Local reported earlier in 2022, “dual nationals can have their Swiss citizenship revoked if their conduct is seriously detrimental to Switzerland’s interests or reputation”.

One example of when such a drastic and irrevocable step can be taken is in the case of people convicted of war crimes, terrorism, or treason.

Between 1940 and 1947, 80 Swiss nationals were deprived of their citizenship because they collaborated with the Nazis.

More recently, in 2019, a Turkish-Swiss dual national lost his Swiss citizenship after being convicted by the Federal Criminal Court for being a member of Islamic State (ISIS).

The last such case, in 2020, involves a woman who was born and raised in Geneva but also has a French passport in addition to a Swiss one. She took her two young daughters to live in the ISIS enclave in Syria without the knowledge of their respective fathers.

In both these cases, authorities revoked their citizenship, banning them from returning to Switzerland and possibly posing a security threat within the country.

Whatever the reason for withdrawing the citizenship, it can only be done if the person has a second nationality. Otherwise, Switzerland would create stateless people, an act prohibited by international law.

And while in certain cases the citizenship can be reinstated, you can’t get it back if your naturalisation has been nullified or if your citizenship has been revoked, for reasons cited above.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Can Swiss citizenship be revoked – and can you get it back?
 

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