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EXPLAINED: The new bid to ease Swiss citizenship laws

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: The new bid to ease Swiss citizenship laws
The initiative was launched in Bern on May 23rd. Photo: Twitter

A new initiative launched this week aims to shorten residency requirements for foreigners in order to quality for Swiss citizenship. Here's what you need to know.


The move, called a “Popular initiative for a modern nationality right (initiative for democracy),” is spearheaded by an organisation called Aktion Vierviertel in German and Action Quatre Quarts in French.

The group is campaigning for foreigners who have lived and worked in Switzerland for at least five years — rather than 10 years as is required currently — to be able to apply for a Swiss passport.

“Political participation is one of the cornerstones of democracy. Whoever has to obey the laws must [also] have a say,” the association said, pointing out that this right is denied to a quarter of the population, or two million foreigners, who contribute to Switzerland’s economic, cultural and social life.

READ ALSO: 'Broken system': The fight to make it easier for foreigners to get Swiss citizenship

One of the members of the initiative committee, Nadra Mao, is of Somali origin. Born in Bern, she acquired Swiss nationality when she was nine.

“40 percent of Switzerland’s population comes from immigration, but 26 percent of them don’t have a Swiss passport,” she said.

"The five-year period for naturalisation is already in effect in Germany and France,” she added.

Currently, people are required to have lived in Germany for eight years before applying for citizenship (although it can be reduced in some cases), however, the government is planning to reduce it to five years. 

Another supporter of the initiative, MP Lisa Mazzone — who has a migration background herself — agrees that this is "a necessary project for modern Switzerland, a recognition for all the foreign people who live, work, and weave their social ties here".

The organisation now has until November 23rd 2024 to collect the 100,000 signatures that are needed to launch a referendum.


'Not integrated'

Not everyone, however, agrees with the proposed change.

“After five years of living in Switzerland, foreigners are not integrated," according to MP Erich Hess, who said he is “totally against the initiative."

As for the former Federal Councillor Pascal Couchepin, he said the initiative is "doomed to failure, it has no chance".

He added that “five years to become Swiss is very short".

What are the current rules?

For ordinary naturalisation, 10 years of residency are required, though years spent living in Switzerland between ages of eight and 18 count as double.

The five-year rule already applies to foreign spouses of Swiss citizens: they 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. 

READ ALSO: The 7 common mistakes to avoid when applying for Swiss citizenship


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