5 times Swiss citizenship was denied for the strangest reasons
One of the most rigorous tests you will ever complete in Switzerland is the naturalisation process to become a Swiss citizen. As most of the system is controlled by individual cantons and councils (Gemeinde), there are often quirks and controversies regarding the process and rejections can occur based on simple questions. Here are five times a citizenship application was declined for a reason that could only happen in Switzerland.
1. Swiss citizenship application rejected over cheese
A 43-year-old man from the UK wanted to have himself and his family naturalised in Switzerland in June 2018, beginning his application in the area around Lake Zurich. After passing the federal exam on his first attempt, he proceeded with his application after moving to the village of Château-d'Oex, Canton Vaud.
Despite passing the official tests, the committee conducting his local interview managed to stump him on the question of where the Swiss delicacy raclette came from. After he answered "western Switzerland" instead of the right answer of Valais, he then stumbled on what the Graubunden speciality “capuns” were.
His application was swiftly rejected by the committee, with the man deemed to be "insufficiently familiar with the Swiss way of life, customs and traditions," with a particular lack of awareness for national service and referendums. He remains one of the few cases where a citizenship application fell apart because of cheese.
2. Calling an Alphorn a "Schwizerhorn"
Another curious case was that of the so-called “Alphorn” application. This was where an Italian man, who had held a residence permit for 20 years, failed his naturalisation interview.
The council where he was a resident argued that the man should not receive citizenship as they considered his integration into the community to be inadequate. This included not being able to identify any specific Swiss mountain and, famously, calling an Alphorn a “Schwizerhorn.”
After his rejection, the applicant launched an appeal at the highest court in Switzerland, the Federal Supreme Court. Concluding the trial, the verdict stated that the previous interview's questions were arbitrary and promptly granted the man citizenship.
3. Mixing up a Christmas tradition with a Swiss sport
In 2017, an applicant in Canton Aargau had their application rejected. Despite acing the written test with a score of 100 percent, the applicant quickly got into trouble when they went to attend the interview.
According to the Aargauer Zeitung, the person was so nervous they forgot the name of the nearest mountain and could not name the local butcher or baker. When asked about what the Swiss do for sport, they said “skiing and Chlauschlöpfen," the latter a Christmas tradition that involves slapping the ground with a whip. After their application was rejected based on these answers, a fresh application was launched and they received citizenship in October 2017.
4. Be sure to go to the zoo before your citizenship interview in Switzerland
Another case of simple mistakes at interviews can be found in a case in Canton Schwyz. An Italian-born man wanted to apply for citizenship after living in the country for 30 years, and applied for naturalisation in the town of Arth.
At the interview, the committee rejected the applicant, despite the man living there for three decades, because he did not know what a very specific piece of church clothing was. He also did not know that wolves and bears were held in the same enclosure at the local zoo, which they took as grounds to reject him.
The case was moved to the Federal Supreme Court, where a judge in Lausanne reprimanded the committee for its decision and ordered them to give the man citizenship.
5. Getting involved in a car accident
Finally, there is the case of a person from Turkey, who arrived in Switzerland in 1994. In 2019, the man decided to apply for citizenship, which the local council quickly approved. Unfortunately, a little while later, he was involved in an accident: specifically, he fell asleep at the wheel of his car.
The accident did not involve any other people and only saw the car briefly leave the road and hit a street lamp. No one was injured, but due to citizenship laws in the canton where he was applying, any expat with a recent criminal record could not be naturalised, leading to the suspension of his application. The man has recently launched an appeal against the suspension, which is yet to be debated.
Swiss citizenship application is one of the hardest in Europe
These stories were compiled by the Swiss Observatory for Asylum and Aliens Law (SBAA), to highlight the “most restrictive naturalisation procedures in Europe.” The SBAA say the cases show how applications are “too rigid” and sometimes denied because of answers to oddly detailed questions.