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Why the case of a teenager getting Swiss citizenship has sparked controversy

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Why the case of a teenager getting Swiss citizenship has sparked controversy
Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Switzerland is known for having very strict criteria for naturalisation. But a high court has gone against a canton and agreed to give citizenship to a young man who was previously caught shoplifting. Here's what's going on.


In an article titled “Naturalisation despite petty theft”, Swiss media reported on Monday that an 18-year-old man will be naturalised in Aargau, even though he was caught stealing two items from a store in 2021, while still a minor.

According to the report, the young man, whose nationality is not mentioned, had his application for naturalisation rejected by the cantonal parliament on the grounds that he stole a USB adapter worth 19.95 francs and a T- shirt worth 34.95 francs.

While considering his application, local deputies decided by 74 votes to 50 not to naturalise the man because of these incidents. 

As the media stated, while the left-leaning MPs were in favour of allowing naturalisation, their right-wing colleagues voted against it, finding the young man’s behaviour to be "disrespectful and cheeky".


However, the applicant appealed the decision to Aargau’s High Court. The court ruled that the parliament’s decision was "arbitrary" and “disproportionate" due to the shoplifting happening when the man was a minor - and allowed the naturalisation to take place.

The court, which said there had been no other incidents, also ordered the parliament to reimburse the 2,000-franc fee which the young man, who is completing an apprenticeship as a polymechanic, had to pay for the appeal. 

Tough criteria

While no further details were given on this particular case, the court’s ruling has raised some questions in view of the strict rules that govern the naturalisation process in Switzerland.

One condition is that a candidate should not have a criminal record, though it is not clear if the scale of the offence is taken into account and how it applies to people under the age of 18.

READ MORE: Switzerland refuses to make it easier to become Swiss

Other than the length of residency and language requirements, integration is a very important condition as well.

This means that among other attributes, foreigners should show respect for public safety, security and order; as well as respect for the values of the Federal Constitution" — all of which exclude stealing.

READ MORE: Reader question: What does being ‘successfully integrated’ in Switzerland mean?

Some officials are so arbitrary in granting (or not) Swiss citizenship, that many otherwise qualified candidates have previously been turned down for puzzling reasons. 

For instance, in 2017, a Dutch woman saw her request for Swiss citizenship refused because of her campaign against cowbells and other Swiss traditions.

And a family from Kosovo had their application denied, due to their habit of wearing jogging pants in public.

Another such case involved a Brit who was not naturalised because during the interview he couldn’t answer the question about origins of the Swiss cheese dish raclette.


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