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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

Foreigner wins appeal after being denied Swiss citizenship due to car accident

Authorities in the canton of Schwyz denied a man’s naturalisation request because of a 'minor' car accident which injured no-one. A Swiss court has overturned the decision, ordering that the man be naturalised this year.

A red Swiss passport up close
A Swiss biometric passport. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

The man, named in Swiss media as Orhan T, crashed into a post when driving home from work in August 2020. Swiss media reports he nodded off at the wheel after working several long days in the weeks before. 

After the crash the man was hit with a CHF900 fine for “driving a motor vehicle in a non-drivable condition”. There are no suggestions alcohol or drugs were involved. 

When applying for naturalisation, authorities in the central canton of Schwyz postponed his application for a further five years (two years probation and a three-year additional waiting period). 

Orhan otherwise appeared to be an ideal candidate for naturalisation. He has lived in Switzerland since 1994 – well over the ten year minimum – and runs a restaurant which employs several staff. 

Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes reports his restaurant sponsors the local football team, Goldau FC, and supports a range of local clubs and societies. 

He also received positive references from a number of local political representatives all across the political spectrum, from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party to the centre-left Social Democrats. 

In a decision handed down on March 30th, 2022, the Administrative Court in Schwyz said the man’s accident was a “one-off misstep” which should not prejudice his claim at citizenship. 

“It is not apparent how this one-off misstep, in which all other integration requirements are assessed as positive, can have a negative impact on successful integration.”

The court ruled that cantonal authorities must naturalise the man before summer. 

‘A fundamental change in naturalisation practice’

The man’s lawyer said the verdict is likely to have significant consequences for naturalisation in Schwyz and maybe in Switzerland in general, as single incidents will have less of a bearing on a naturalisation claim where the evidence shows a person is clearly integrated. 

“The administrative court is making it clear that an overall assessment must be made even if there are minor missteps. ‘Killer’ criteria are therefore no longer permissible – it must always be specifically checked whether a person is integrated or not.”

Citizenship advocacy organisation Naturalisation Stories agrees, saying “thanks to the judgement, the authorities must now fundamentally change their practice”. 

Recent Swiss history is littered with examples of otherwise worthy candidates being knocked back due to relatively minor aspects. 

Switzerland’s naturalisation process is notoriously difficult, with applicants facing a range of hurdles at all stages of the process. 

In considering an application, not only will a person have to satisfy financial requirements and minimum times living in Switzerland, but they will need to meet a range of requirements laid out by three levels of government: the commune, the canton and the Confederation.

It is at the communal level where things can get particularly unusual, with people knocked back for not knowing enough about local zoo animals, for not liking hiking and for preferring to holiday abroad rather than in Switzerland. 

Nine examples of this are laid out in the following report. 

READ MORE: The nine most surprising questions on Switzerland’s citizenship exam

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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

Switzerland refuses to make it easier to become Swiss

Switzerland's Federal Council rejected a motion by some MPs to make the process of obtaining Swiss citizenship easier for certain foreigners.

Switzerland refuses to make it easier to become Swiss

In view of the low naturalisation rate in Switzerland, MP Katja Christ from the Green Liberal party has filed a motion asking to revise the minimum length of stay required to obtain Swiss citizenship from 10 to seven years.

Christ also pointed out that the naturalisation process itself, especially on the municipal level, should be revamped.

That is because such a procedure sometimes involves discriminatory decisions by the communal assembly, which are based on the candidate’s origin rather than his or her eligibility for citizenship, she said.

The government responded that any denial of naturalisation believed by the candidate to be unjustified can be appealed.

Another MP, Corina Gredig, also asked to lower the minimum length of stay required by the cantons for naturalisation from the current five to three years, arguing that many people move from one canton before the five-year term.

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

However, on Thursday the Federal Council rejected the motions, saying that a revised legislation on foreigners went into effect in 2019, so fairly recently, and the issues brought up in the two recent motions were already addressed at that time.

During the debates leading up to the new legislation, the parliament refused to reduce the minimum length of stay in Switzerland to eight years and in cantons  three years, authorities said.

The law lays out criteria not only for naturalisation, but also for integration in general, as well as for conditions to receive work permits in Switzerland, which include the need to provide certificates from government-accredited institutions to prove language proficiency.

READ MORE: Work permits: Switzerland introduces new rules for language proficiency certificates

The refusal to lighten up naturalisation requirements comes amid ongoing discussions in Switzerland about how to make this process easier for third-generation foreigners who are eligible to become Swiss.

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 and have lived their entire lives in Switzerland, they have the same nationality as their parents and will continue to be considered as foreigners – until and unless they become naturalised.

However, this process is more complex than it seems, as it is unreasonably bureaucratic, requiring proof that is often difficult to obtain.

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

As a result of these strict conditions, very few third-generation foreigners become Swiss: out of about 25,000 people in this category, only 1,847 received their Swiss passports at the end of 2020 — the last year for which official statistics are available.

“There should be political will to implement change, which is not the case”, Rosita Fibbi, migration sociologist at the Swiss Forum for the Study of Migration and Population at the University of Neuchâtel, told The Local in an interview on May 4th.

“No significant steps to make the process truly easier have been introduced to date”; she added.

The latest Federal Council decision  not to act on the recent motions means no relief is in sight on the naturalisation front.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why so many foreigners in Switzerland skip naturalisation?
 

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