Five ways you can fast-track your route to Swiss citizenship
Swiss citizenship is notoriously difficult to obtain — not only for people born abroad, but sometimes also for those born in Switzerland to foreign parents. But there are ways to speed up the process.
There are two kinds of naturalisation procedures in Switzerland: the ordinary or fast- track, also known as facilitated or simplified.
In fact, there is nothing easy or simple about the latter option, though it is generally less of a hassle than the standard procedure.
However, there are strict criteria in place for who can, and cannot, be fast-tracked (though you should not be swayed by the word ‘fast’, as it usually takes at least a year).
Who can take advantage of this option?
There are five categories of people included in this group, as defined by the Federal Act on Swiss Citizenship:
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.
Since February 2018, Swiss-born foreigners under the age of 25, whose grandparents were already established in Switzerland, can request fast-track naturalisation.
This sounds straightforward enough, but it isn’t.
The reason are the conditions the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) has set for this group:
- At least one grandparent was born in Switzerland and can be proven to have acquired a right of residence here.
- At least one parent has acquired a permanent residence permit, has lived for at least 10 years in Switzerland, and attended compulsory schooling in Switzerland for at least five years.
- The applicant was born in Switzerland and holds a permanent residence permit.
- The applicant completed compulsory schooling for at least five years in Switzerland.
- The applicant is successfully integrated.
- The application is submitted before the 25th birthday.
- If the application is submitted after the applicant’s 25th birthday but otherwise meets all the requirements, they can apply for simplified naturalisation until February 15th, 2023 provided they will still be under the age of 40 on that date.
If this doesn’t sound complicated enough, there is more: the administrative burden.
The difficulty many potential applicants in this group have is finding documentation relating to grandparents, especially if they are deceased and no family records can be found.
And many parents who arrived in Switzerland later in life did not meet the five years of compulsory schooling criteria, so eligibility for citizenship under this rule is another obstacle to fast-track naturalisation.
If your spouse is a Swiss citizen (rather than merely a permanent resident), you qualify for citizenship as well.
It doesn’t matter how your spouse obtained his or her Swiss nationality — whether by birth or naturalisation. It is also not important whether you yourself come from a EU / EFTA or third country — the criteria for naturalisation by marriage are the same for everyone.
Foreign spouses of Swiss nationals must have lived for a total of five years in Switzerland, have spent the year prior to submitting the application in Switzerland, and must have been married to and living with the Swiss citizen for three years, according to SEM.
In addition, the person wanting to become naturalised will need to be ‘successfully integrated’ in Switzerland.
What this means is mostly subjective and may differ from one Swiss region to another.
Generally speaking, however, 'integration' is proficiency in the language of the canton where you live, knowledge of the region, as well as being assimilated, culturally and otherwise, into your community.
Beware, however, that simplified naturalisation through marriage may not turn out simple after all.
If you wed a Swiss citizen just to get the passport, your marriage (or citizenship) may not last long.
One such recent example involves a Moroccan woman married to a Swiss man 15 years her senior. After she became naturalised through the facilitated process, she separated from her husband just months later.
Authorities decided this was a clear case of marriage of convenience and stripped the woman of her Swiss citizenship.
Children of Swiss parents
This applies to offspring of foreign parents who were naturalised, but the child was not naturalised at the same time.
You can request a fast-track process if you were under the age of 18 at the time of your parent(s)' naturalisation; apply for naturalisation before the age of 22; can prove that you have been living for five years in Switzerland, including the three years immediately before you apply.
Also, "if you are a foreign citizen and the child of a Swiss mother and a foreign father .and your mother acquired Swiss citizenship before you were born or possessed it at your birth, you can apply for simplified naturalisation provided you are successfully integrated in Switzerland» according to SEM. “This applies in cases where a mother who is married to a foreign national cannot pass her Swiss citizenship on to her child, regardless of how she acquired Swiss citizenship".
The only obstacle to this simplified naturalisation would be “if your mother forfeited her Swiss citizenship before you were born".
If you have a Swiss father and were born before January 1st, 2006, you can apply for simplified naturalisation, provided you are successfully integrated in Switzerland, according to SEM.
This is valid only if your father was a Swiss citizen at the time of your birth and not married to your mother.
You can also go through a fast-track naturalisation if you were adoped by a Swiss parent.
According to SEM, this can only happen if you were legally adopted before you turned 18.
The above are the most conventional paths to simplified naturalisation.
But there some less standard ways as well.
Say you grew up genuinely believing that you are a Swiss citizen, but it later turned out that you are not.
While this situation is probably not very common, it must happen from time to time, because SEM lists this scenario on its website under the heading “People erroneously treated as Swiss citizens”.
SEM doesn’t specify under what circumstances such a mix-up could occur and go unnoticed by the authorities for any length of time, especially since each person officially living in Switzerland is registered with his or her commune of residence, and Swiss officials are good about keeping track of people.
If you are discovered not to be Swiss after all, you can then apply for fast-track naturalisation, but your burden of proof will be heavy.
“You must genuinely have been completely unaware that you are not in fact a Swiss citizen”, SEM points out.
“Your belief that you are a Swiss citizen must have arisen from or been confirmed by the conduct of a cantonal or communal authority towards you. This conduct must not be open to interpretation. It arises in particular if the authority has issued you with identity documents stating that you are a Swiss national, even though in reality you are not”.
Make of it what you will.
Are there other extenuating circumstances allowing you fast naturalisation?
Perhaps you are hoping that speaking one (or more) of the national languages fluently, or “feeling Swiss”, or mastering the art of yodeling and alphorn playing would make you a good candidate for fast-track citizenship.
Sorry, but no.
There is, however, at least one example of a foreigner getting his Swiss passport without much ado, administratively speaking.
In 1901, a former German national named Albert Einstein received his Swiss passport, two years after applying and without any record of having to jump through proverbial hoops or prove his integration (though he did have the required language skills).
Can the same happen to you? Possibly, but only if you are a Nobel-winning physicist with a track record of developing groundbreaking theories.