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Swiss citizenship For Members

Citizenship through marriage: What happens to your Swiss passport in case of divorce?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Citizenship through marriage: What happens to your Swiss passport in case of divorce?
Whether this passport is for life depends on how you obtained it. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Each year, thousands of foreigners become naturalised through marriage to a Swiss. But what happens to your citizenship if the couple gets divorced? The answer is: it depends.

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One of the ways a foreign national can obtain Swiss citizenship (via a facilitated naturalisation procedure) is through marriage.

In most cases, a citizenship obtained this way is for life (even if the marriage isn’t), but there are also situations when the opposite is true.

Whether or not you can keep your Swiss passport depends on the circumstances of both your marriage and divorce.

Strict rules

Some people believe that marrying a Swiss is a quick and easy path to a passport — in fact, it is neither.

While up to the 1980s it was possible to become a citizen automatically upon marriage, this has not been the case in decades.

Though marriage still proffers an easier path to naturalisation, certain conditions must be met to become eligible.

For instance, candidates for naturalisation through marriage must have lived at least five years in Switzerland, spent the year prior to applying in the country, and have been married to and living with the Swiss citizen for at least three years. 

This ensures that a foreigner weds a Swiss citizen for all the right reasons — that is, love — rather than merely to get a passport.

What happens to citizenship if the couple go their separate ways nevertheless?

If they remained together for several years, and especially if children were born during marriage, then citizenship will likely remain intact.

However, if the authorities become suspicious of the circumstances of the divorce, the citizenship could be revoked.

One such fairly 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.

She then remarried in Lebanon, raising suspicions among Swiss authorities about the ulterior motives behind her marriage in Switzerland.

After investigating the circumstances of the couple's breakup and concluding that the woman married expressly to get a Swiss passport, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) revoked her naturalisation.

While this may seem like a rare occurrence, in fact it is not: on average, SEM revokes close to 50 naturalisations each year following a divorce.

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

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Naturalisation can be rescinded "within two years after discovering the legally relevant circumstances, and, at the latest, within eight years following the moment when the naturalised person acquired the Swiss citizenship,” SEM said.

In such cases, the person must leave Switzerland.

Extreme situations

Under certain (though admittedly rare) circumstances, fake marriages can leave the foreigner in a lot of trouble.

Such a scenario would arise if the foreigner gave up his or her original citizenship upon marriage, rather than maintain dual nationality.

This actually happened in 2008 to a man from Angola after his marriage to a Swiss – through which he obtained Swiss citizenship – ended in divorce.

The SEM revoked his naturalisation but, no longer having an Angolan passport, the man was left stateless.

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This created quite a conundrum, as international law prohibits countries from making people stateless.

If that happens nevertheless, the stateless individual has “the right to remain resident in Switzerland (residence permit B),” according to SEM.

"If a recognised stateless person has committed a criminal offence…they are regarded as equivalent to refugees.”

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