Immigration For Members

When do the Swiss think a foreigner is successfully integrated?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
When do the Swiss think a foreigner is successfully integrated?
Joining a fire brigade shows you're integrated. Image by JamesRein from Pixabay

Integration is a key condition for obtaining Swiss citizenship. But how can you really know whether you are sufficiently integrated?


You may think — as some foreign nationals do — that you are integrated in Switzerland because you speak the language of your canton, are employed, and obey the country’s laws, and maybe even know why the country celebrates its national holiday on August 1st.

All that is good, but it is merely a start — there is far more to the Swiss concept of integration than just that.
First, what are the official integration criteria?

In a nutshell, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) defines this process as participation in the economic, social, and cultural life of society, which requires not only fluency in the national language of a particular region, but also familiarity with the Swiss way of life and local customs.

An ‘integrated’ foreigner must also obey the country’s laws and not pose any threat to Switzerland’s security.

For the Swiss, however, ‘integration’ has a deeper meaning; it goes beyond knowing the facts and doing the right thing to the emotional connection to Switzerland in general and the foreigner’s local community in particular.

READ ALSO: What does being 'successfully integrated' in Switzerland mean?

Going beyond the perfunctory

Being proficient in a local language, having a job, and contributing economically to Switzerland’s prosperity are all positive steps, but you can do all that without actually feeling like you are a part of a community.

Though municipal-level naturalisation decisions are known to be arbitrary, some have actually shed light on the difference between the perfunctory integration and a deliberate and genuine one.

For instance, several years ago, an American professor who had lived in Switzerland for over 40 years and appeared to be well integrated, had his bid for Swiss citizenship rejected because his knowledge of his local region was lacking: he could not name any lakes in the area and didn’t know any of the local holidays. 


Then, there is an often-cited case of a Dutch woman whose application for citizenship was turned down because she was actively campaigning against cowbells in her rural community.

The local naturalisation committee decided the woman could not become Swiss, even though she had lived in the country most of her life.

Both these examples seem to be arbitrary, but if you look at them from a Swiss person’s point of view, neither the lack of knowledge of local community nor criticising local customs, are compatible with the concept of ‘integration.’


What, then, is considered as successful integration in Switzerland?
Looking beyond the obvious (language proficiency, employment, and compliance with law), there are several ways to do this, but one certain to succeed is to wholeheartedly immerse yourself in the life of your local community.

How can you do this?

For instance, being a member of a local choir or volunteer fire brigade (both of which abound in Switzerland) is particularly valued, as it demonstrates the readiness to be part of, and contribute to, your town, village, or neighbourhood.

If you are tone deaf or don’t like to be around fires, you can still be active by volunteering, whether at the local school, church, or anywhere where help is needed.

READ ALSO: Five ways to help you integrate in Switzerland


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