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Swiss citizenship For Members

Why are Zug politicians pushing for tougher Swiss citizenship language rules?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Why are Zug politicians pushing for tougher Swiss citizenship language rules?
Zug politician wants to make naturalisation harder. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

The Zug section of the populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) filed a motion to require applicants for citizenship in the canton to have better German skills. Here's what's going on.

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How do naturalisation language rules work in Switzerland?

Currently, Switzerland’s legislation for language skills for foreigners applying for Swiss citizenship is based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, which establishes standards for an individual's language skills.

Accordingly, the B1 level is required for oral and A2 for written proficiency.

Candidates are tested, especially for spoken skills, during the naturalisation interview process, but the language certificate, obtained from one of the following accredited institutions, must be attached to the application.

Foreigners with a Swiss national language as their mother tongue (German, French or Italian), as well as those who have completed three years of compulsory schooling in a national language, are exempted from this rule.

However, the federal legislation sets only the minimum proficiency level, and cantons are free to establish their own, higher criteria, as St. Gallen and Schwyz have done.

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What's going on in Zug?

Zug currently follows the federal legislation, with the B1 level required orally and A2 in writing.

However, Zug’s right-wingers — that is, the SVP — are pushing for the canton to follow the two other German-speaking cantons, demanding the B2 level for oral and B1 for written language because “the requirements are currently too low,” according to the cantonal SVP head, Philip C. Brunner.

"Having the Swiss passport should be a great privilege, and the language is an important element of successful integration," he added.

About a third of German-speaking Zug’s population are non-Swiss. 

The canton’s left-wingers, on the other hand, oppose the proposed change.

“Of course, learning German is central to successful integration,” said Beat Iten, head of the local socialist (Social Democratic) party. “But this is only one element among others for a successful integration.”

“Participation in social and economic life is equally important,” he added.

READ MORE: Reader question - What does being 'successfully integrated' in Switzerland mean?

Iten also pointed out that focusing solely on language while neglecting other aspects of citizenship is an “extremely one-sided approach that ignores the complexity of naturalisation.”

Additionally, according to Iten, this move could create inequality among people seeking naturalisation, as foreigners from Germany and Austria have an unfair advantage in terms of language integration than other immigrants.

Right now the tougher language requirement is only a proposal; if it is to become law it would be voted in a cantonal referendum.

This article details everything you should know about language requirements:

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

And in case you are wondering — yes, you need a certain level of language proficiency to obtain (and maintain) your work permit as well. 

READ MORE: Work permits: Switzerland introduces new rules for language proficiency certificates
 

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