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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

EXPLAINED: Why so many foreigners in Switzerland skip naturalisation?

Official data shows that many eligible foreigners don’t apply for Swiss citizenship. Why is this and what can be done to counter this trend?

'If you're going to become Swiss, be sure to wear some flags in your hair' Photo: BORIS HORVAT / AFP
'If you're going to become Swiss, be sure to wear some flags in your hair' Photo: BORIS HORVAT / AFP

As anyone who already tried to obtain a Swiss passport knows only too well, Switzerland has very stringent federal, cantonal and communal naturalisation rules — whether through the regular or fast-track naturalisation procedures.

The regulations are so stringent, in fact, that they deter many qualified foreigners from even trying to pursue the process.

Around one in four residents of Switzerland – more than two million people – are foreigners without Swiss citizenship, but only around 40,000 become Swiss each year. 

Even those born in Switzerland and who have never lived anywhere else may not have applied for Swiss citizenship. 

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, in a recent report, the Federal Commission for Migration (FKM) said that 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”.

This article explains what documentation — often difficult to obtain — is needed for the naturalisation process:

Third generation fast-track naturalisation in Switzerland: What you need to know

The report concluded that “by erecting almost insurmountable obstacles, legislators are accused of wanting to prevent as many people as possible from accessing their political rights”.

While these rules place significant restrictions on who can actually become naturalised, even those who are eligible are, in some cases, reluctant to do so. 

“The bureaucratic hurdles are still too high”, FKM director Walter Leimgruber told 20 Minuten news platform.

“The message is, yes, you can apply for naturalisation, but will you be able to fulfil all the criteria?” 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.

And with a high rejection rate, many people prefer to just give up after the first failed attempt rather than undergo the arduous process again, she added.

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

As for immigrants who are EU nationals,  many feel no need to go through the complicated process as they see no benefit in becoming Swiss — they  face almost no restrictions in Switzerland, apart from the inability to vote, according to Leimgruber.

This means that roughly 25 percent of the population cannot vote in federal or cantonal elections, though a handful of municipalities grant foreigners the right to vote on a communal level. 

What could be done to reverse this trend?

“There should be political will to implement change, which is not the case”, Fibbi said, as no significant steps to make the process truly easier for both third-generation and ‘regular’ immigrants have been introduced to date.

There has, however, been some movement in that direction on the legislative front, with parliamentary commissions debating the issue, Fibbi pointed out.

While Social Democrats have started on this path in 2021, “if there is talk in the parliament about this issue, it means centre and other parties may also be willing to open up and do something about this problem”, Fibbi noted.

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

In the end, however, any change in law would have to be accepted by  voters, who may or may not want to see the relaxation of the present rules.

Paradoxically perhaps, those who are most affected by the rules — the aforementioned 25 percent of Switzerland’s population — will not be able to cast their vote.

READ MORE: Naturalisation: How well must I speak a Swiss language for citizenship?

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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

QUIZ: Would you pass Zurich’s Swiss citizenship test?

Zurich, Switzerland's most populous canton, is standardising its test for Swiss citizenship. Think you could pass it?

QUIZ: Would you pass Zurich’s Swiss citizenship test?

Voters in the Swiss canton of Zurich on May 15th approved a proposal to simplify naturalisation requirements for the canton’s 350,000 foreigners. 

Zurich, Switzerland’s most populous canton, has 162 municipalities. While it might be a slight exaggeration to say there are 162 unique tests, the questions can vary greatly. 

Naturalisation: How well must I speak a Swiss language for citizenship?

The May 15th vote standardised the process by establishing a standardised knowledge test for the entire canton.

This means that the test will be drawn from the same questions regardless of whether you live in Adlikon bei Andelfingen or Zumikon. 

Whether you’ve just arrived in Zurich or you’re a long-time Swiss citizen, this set of cantonal naturalisation test questions gives you a chance to see how well you’d do. 

How does the naturalisation test work? 

The test includes 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.

While the test will be standardised – as in, the 50 questions will be drawn from the same 350 across the canton – there will be questions directed at municipal, cantonal and federal issues. 

The test will be in German, although the canton promises that it will take place in ‘plain language’. 

More information about the new requirements is available at the following link. 

EXPLAINED: How Zurich has simplified the Swiss citizenship process

Would you pass Zurich’s citizenship test?

With the decision to standardise the test only given public approval in May – and with things taking a little while in Switzerland generally – as at June 30th the canton-wide test has not yet been put in place. 

The Zurich government website indicates final work is being done to ensure the test is appropriate. 

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

A number of questions have however been released. The test is in multiple choice format, with applicants being given three or four options for most questions. 

The following are translated versions of some of the questions which are actually included on the test. 

As you can see, many relate to Switzerland federally and do not have specific relevance to Zurich. 

To take the test on the Zurich cantonal website – and for more information – click here. 

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