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Switzerland approves simplified citizenship rules for third generation immigrants

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The Swiss have voted for the law allowing third generation immigrants to receive Swiss citizenship much easier and faster, on the referendum organized on February 12 2017.

Swiss voters have approved the measures allowing more flexible criteria for third generation immigrants to become citizens, denying allegations that this would pose a risk to national security. The new law change is aimed at children born in Switzerland, whose parents and grandparents have lived in this country all their lives.

Debates regarding third generation immigrants

Those who are born in Switzerland don’t automatically receive the Swiss citizenship, according to the current legislation. Any individual who is not a Swiss resident must wait approximately 12 years before being able to apply for the Swiss citizenship. This is the so-called ordinary naturalization process. However, there is also the possibility to obtain Swiss citizenship through a facilitated naturalization process, but this option is available generally only for the spouses and children of Swiss citizens.

The Swiss government and the majority of MPs and political parties supported the proposal that allows third generation immigrants to skip several steps in extremely long and slow process of obtaining a Swiss passport.

According to a study conducted by the Department of Immigration, less than 25,000 people in the country of about 8 million people fall into the category of immigrants of the third generation, that have at least one grandparent who was born in Switzerland or who obtained a residence permit in Switzerland. More than half of these persons are Italian immigrants, followed by nationals from the Balkans region and Turkey.

Swiss People's Party (SVP) was the one that promoted several nationalist messages, declaring that soon enough, most third generation immigrants will not be of European origin, which would allow people coming from literally all over the world to become Swiss citizens much easier.

However, the majority of Swiss voters considered that the third generation immigrants will not affect the “Swiss values” and their opinion reflected the results of the referendum from February 12. This was not the first attempt to simplify the rules for third generation immigrants, as over the past 30 years, three such attempts failed.

Immigration in Switzerland

The citizenship in Switzerland is determined by the nationality of the child’s parents, not by the place of birth. This is contrary to the laws of countries used to deal with a large number of immigrants, such as Canada or USA.

This is also due to the fact that Switzerland never made any real efforts to increase the number of population by relaxing the immigration laws, like the neighboring Switzerland, for example. In fact, it was quite the opposite, as Switzerland always tried to control and restrict the number of immigrants that enter the country, including through a strict quota system for work permits. Through this system, local workers are always prioritized against foreign workers whenever there are economic problems.

The process of obtaining Swiss citizenship

Individuals, who want to obtain the Swiss citizenship through the ordinary naturalization process, must meet several requirements set out on three different levels: on federal level, on cantonal level and on communal level.

The basic rule that foreign nationals must fulfill on federal level is to have lived for 12 years in Switzerland. Naturally, during this period of time, the respective persons must abide the Swiss law, they shouldn’t pose any threat to the country and they should be well integrated into the Swiss community. As a result, the evaluation made by the cantonal and communal authorities regarding the level of integration of a person is sometimes subjective.

It’s common procedure to have colleagues, friends and neighbors appear before the authorities to offer recommendations or to “testify” that a person is well integrated. How much a person is able to integrate into a community is crucial in the process, as there are several cases where people who lived for more than 10 or 12 years in Switzerland were denied the citizenship because of what might be considered as arbitrary reasons.

Another important part of the process is to live for an extensive period of time in the same Swiss canton, not only on Swiss territory. Each Swiss canton has its own regulations regarding obtaining the citizenship. For example, in some cantons, such as Geneva or Bern it is possible to apply for citizenship if a person has lived there for at least two years, while in other cantons it is necessary to have lived there for longer. For instance, in the canton of Uri it is necessary to live for eight uninterrupted years before being able to apply for the Swiss citizenship.

Furthermore, if a person decides to move from one canton to another, this can affect the entire process of obtaining Swiss citizenship, because in some cases it may be necessary to start it all over again, depending on the regulations stipulated by each Swiss canton.

Obtaining the Swiss citizenship is not only costly, as there are several fees that a person has to pay, but it’s also a lengthy process, with a variable success rate. Cantons in the western region are usually more generous when it comes to the number of naturalizations, with Zurich registering the highest number of people in 2015.

Changes in the naturalization process

The reform is aimed at applicants for Swiss citizenships between the ages of 9 and 25. They have to submit a formal request to the federal government, but they no longer have to undergo the examinations of cantonal and local authorities.

The candidates eligible for obtaining Swiss citizenship must have at least five years of regular schooling in Switzerland, as well as a valid residence permit. The requests for facilitated naturalization are also a subject to several conditions for the parents and grandparents of third generation immigrants.

Overall, at least for the moment, this change affects only approximately 25,000 persons, but the coming decades will most likely be characterized by an increasing number of applicants from the descends of other European countries (such as countries from the former Yugoslavia) or Turkey.

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