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CITIZENSHIP

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.

Five ways you can fast-track your route to Swiss citizenship
This is one way toward fast-track naturalisation. Photo by Pixabay

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:

Third generation

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.

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

Marriage

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.

READ MORE: Naturalisation through marriage: How your partner can obtain Swiss citizenship

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.

READ MORE: Switzerland revokes citizenship for ‘unfair and deceptive behaviour’

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.

Adoption

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.

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EUROPEAN UNION

‘Shady characters’: Will EU countries now put an end to ‘golden passport’ schemes?

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine European countries are coming under pressure to end backdoor routes to EU citizenship which are deemed to be unfair and "shady". This week MEPs in the European parliament made their opinions on the scheme clear.

'Shady characters': Will EU countries now put an end to 'golden passport' schemes?

The European Parliament on Wednesday called for the phasing out of citizenship by investment programmes operated by some EU countries and for EU-wide regulation on so-called ‘golden visas’ offered to wealthy individuals. 

Such schemes pose a threat to European security and democracy as they can be used “as a backdoor” to the EU for “dirty money”, MEPs argued during the debate.

Members of the European Parliament have been calling for the termination of ‘golden passport’ schemes since 2014, but the issue has become more prominent in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, because of the number of Russian citizens acquiring rights in EU countries through this route in recent years. 

The resolution passed by the parliament with 595 votes to 12 and 74 abstentions says golden passports should be phased out fully. 

The background…

The market of golden passports and visas developed rapidly since the 2008 financial crisis, as countries have sought to incentivise foreign investment

Three EU countries – Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta – offer citizenship in exchange for a financial investment. Currently, however, Bulgaria is considering a government proposal to end the scheme, Cyprus is only processing applications submitted before November 2020, and Malta has just suspended the processing of applications from Russian citizens.

In addition, 12 EU countries (Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Spain, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and Portugal) grant residence permits on the basis of investments, the so-called ‘golden visas’. 

Each national scheme has different rules regarding minimum investment requirements, which range between €60,000 in Latvia and €1.25 million in the Netherlands. These can be through property ownership or contributions to public projects. 

A European parliament study estimates that, from 2011 to 2019, the total investment associated to these schemes has been of €21.4 billion. 42,180 citizenship or residence applications have been approved under such programmes and more than 132,000 people have benefited, including family members of applicants. 

Dutch MEP Sophie IN’t Veld, the European parliament rapporteur, said that “when governments are selling passports or visas, what is actually bringing in the cash is… the little blue and yellow logo on them” – in other words, the EU flag.

‘They are designed for shady business, shady money and shady characters’

Getting citizenship of one EU country of course means the freedom to live and work in all 27 member states, so one country’s passport policy affects everyone in the Bloc. 

Benefits include the right to move to other EU countries, exercise economic activities in the single market, vote and stand as candidates in local and European elections, receive consular protection outside the EU and travel visa-free in many other states around the world. 

Residence also ensures economic rights and the possibility to be joined by family members. 

All this bypassing standard citizenship requirements, which typically involve a period of residence and a “genuine connection” to the country, such as family links, or integration conditions, such as speaking the language and knowing the culture. 

“Passports and golden visa schemes are not about attracting any meaningful legitimate investment in the real economy of Europe. They are designed for shady business, shady money and shady characters,” Sophie IN’t Veld said during the debate.

A picture taken on March 8, 2022 shows European Union’s and Ukrainian flags fluttering outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France. (Photo by Frederick FLORIN / AFP)

Security risks

In an earlier analysis, the European Commission found that such programmes pose risks regarding security, money laundering, tax evasion and corruption due to weak vetting procedures. 

For instance, EU countries offering citizenship by investment usually request clean criminal records from applicants or their country of origin, which are difficult to verify especially in case of a conflict. But Malta can waive the requirement “where the competent authority considers such a certificate impossible to obtain”. 

Cyprus, which is not part of the border-free Schengen area, is not connected to the Schengen Information System that allows member countries to share security information.

In addition, EU member states consult on applications for short-stay visas issued to citizens from certain third countries, but they do not consult for citizenship by investment programmes and do not inform each other of rejected applications, the Commission noted.

Media investigations also highlighted how the schemes have been linked to corruption and crime. Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in Malta in 2017 following her investigations into corrupt politicians and money laundering through the citizenship by investment programme, MEPs reminded. 

Brexit-backing billionaire Christopher Chandler, born in New Zealand, was reported to have acquired EU citizenship using the Maltese scheme in 2016.

In 2021 Cyprus revoked the citizenship of 39 foreign investors and 6 members of their families, after it emerged that insufficient background checks had been carried out for over half of the 6,779 passports issued under the scheme between 2007 and 2020. 

‘It is not fair to Ukrainians at this point’

The parliament said on Wednesday that these schemes are “discriminatory and lack fairness” as they contrast “dramatically with the obstacles to seeking international protection, legally migrating or seeking naturalisation through conventional channels”. 

MEPs also called on the European Commission to propose, in 2022, EU-wide regulation on residence by investment schemes. These should include stricter background checks on applicants, their family members and the sources of their funds, minimum residence requirements, investments that truly benefit the economy of the country, and proper scrutiny of intermediaries helping people acquiring rights trough these channels.

“It should not be enough to just buy a house or a villa. The investment must be in the real economy and in line with the climate and social objectives of the Union,” said Sophie IN’t Veld. 

It is “very difficult for small countries whose revenue streams depend on this… I understand it is painful but it is not fair to European citizens, and Ukrainians at this point,” the rapporteur said.

Despite the vote in the European parliament EU powers on this issue remain limited because the rules on the acquisition of citizenship are defined at national level rather than in Brussels. 

The European Commission, however, has already launched a legal action at the European Court of Justice against Cyprus and Malta because “the granting of EU citizenship for pre-determined payments or investments without any genuine link with the member states concerned undermines the essence of EU citizenship”.

What about Russian nationals obtaining golden status?

Russian nationals account for 45 percent of those who have acquired citizenship in EU countries using this route, followed by Chinese nationals and people from the Middle East (15 percent for each group). Chinese investors account for over half of residence permits issued in this way.  

In consideration of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the European Parliament also appealed EU countries to stop operating citizenship and residency by investment schemes for Russian nationals with immediate effect and to re-assess whether those who benefited in the past have links to the Putin regime. 

In the first round of sanctions against Russia, the leaders of the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States committed to “limit the sale of citizenship… that let wealthy Russians connected to the Russian government become citizens… of our countries and gain access to our financial systems.”

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK. 

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