Swiss citizenship For Members

Which minor offences could prevent you becoming a Swiss citizen?

Helena Bachmann in Geneva
Helena Bachmann in Geneva - [email protected] • 16 Jan, 2023 Updated Mon 16 Jan 2023 15:43 CEST
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The criteria for Swiss citizenship are very strict. Photo: Fabrice Coffini / AFP

If you are planning to apply for a Swiss passport, make sure your criminal record is squeaky clean, or your hopes of naturalisation could be dashed.

Switzerland’s naturalisation criteria are among Europe’s strictest.

Besides requirements such as the length of stay and language proficiency — which are the basically the same as in other countries — Switzerland also insists that all applicants for citizenship be well integrated.

In fact, integration is one of the primary conditions for naturalisation.

The word “integration” has a broad definition, and in Switzerland it means assimilating into, rather than standing apart from, the mainstream — in other words, adopting to the local laws, customs, and way of life.

In practice, this requirement has sometimes resulted in arbitrary judgements, such as denying naturalisations for seemingly trivial reasons like dressing sloppily in public, complaining about cowbells, or not being sufficiently knowledgeable about the Swiss cheese dish, raclette.

And then there are more “serious” offences that will almost certainly exclude your citizenship application.

Obviously, if you are a foreigner and have been convicted of crime(s), you can forget about becoming Swiss. In fact, depending on what your offence is, you may even be deported from Switzerland.

In this context, the government defines "serious crimes" as those warranting at least a three-year prison sentence, including murder, rape, serious sexual assault, violent acts, armed robbery, as well as drug and people trafficking.”

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: When can a foreigner be ordered to leave Switzerland?

It is fair to say that if you fall under any of the above categories, you shouldn’t even bother applying for citizenship. But even the minor infractions can stand in the way of a Swiss passport.

These are some of them:

Breaking driving rules

As a French resident of Geneva recently found out, speeding can land you in a lot of trouble.

The man, who has lived in Switzerland for 40 years and owns several multi-million-franc businesses here, saw his application for Swiss citizenship rejected after he was caught driving past a 40-km/h construction site at 80 km/h.
  
His citizenship application was rejected because the naturalisation committee took his careless driving to mean than the candidate was "not successfully integrated." His appeal against the decision failed.

This may sound like a trivial reason to deny a passport to an otherwise upstanding resident, but it is in line with Switzerland’s naturalisation criteria, which include complying with the country’s laws.

READ MORE: Frenchman barred from Swiss citizenship over speeding offence

Financial irresponsibility

Having unsettled debts or being the subject of debt collection proceedings doesn't bode well in terms of citizenship.

That’s because the Foreign Nationals and Integration Act (FNIA), defines successful integration — an important condition for naturalisation — as personal responsibility, self-sufficiency, and participation in the country’s economy.

If you have debts, you obviously (in the eyes of Swiss authorities) don’t have what it takes to become Swiss.

In its handbook on naturalisation, State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) notes that “compliance with Swiss law is measured in particular by an exemplary financial reputation.”

SEM goes on to list non-payment of taxes, health insurance premiums, fines, rents, or accumulation of debt as valid reasons for denying citizenship.

READ MORE: Citizenship: How personal debt could stop you from becoming Swiss 

Receiving social aid (or even asking for it)

Just as financial irresponsibility is not well seen in Switzerland, so is depending on public money to support yourself if you are a foreigner seeking to be naturalised.

It is considered an even greater offence (and a decidedly ‘unSwiss’ trait) if you refuse to work.

In fact, your application for Swiss citizenship will be turned down if you have been on welfare in the three years prior to applying.
An exception is made if the benefits are paid back in full before your application is received.
 

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Helena Bachmann in Geneva 2023/01/16 15:43

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