Expats may be conscripted in Switzerland under new civil service proposal

Expats may be conscripted in Switzerland under new civil service proposal

A new referendum has been launched that, if accepted, would radically change national service in Switzerland. The proposals include conscripting expats and internationals into a new “citizens service,” designed to assist the country in times of war, pandemics or environmental crises.

Expats conscripted into Swiss civilian service if law is passed

Currently, only Swiss citizens are allowed to perform national service. While the military is compulsory for able-bodied men and voluntary for women, those deemed unfit to serve can join the Swiss civil service. The Zivildienst are non-combatants that perform a number of social tasks in the country like building paths through the Swiss mountains, preserving the environment, assisting Swiss healthcare and doing training courses on anything from cooking to medical treatment.

If the new idea is accepted by voters, holders of residents permits would be asked to join the service. The organisers were quick to stress that expats would join a hybrid version of the civilian service and will not have to serve on the frontline.

The proposal to extend conscription is a response to staff shortages in the military and civil service, with fears that the Swiss population cannot sustain the 212.000 recruits needed every year to keep the system running. As non-Swiss residents make up a third of the Swiss population, organisers hope that by including expats, they would be able to make up for the shortfall.

Supporters argue Swiss militia system must be preserved

In a statement, the group proposing the referendum, Service Citoyen, said, “The current system of civilian and military protection must be improved and modernised to tackle the challenges of the 21st century – and the commitment of everyone is necessary.” Supporters argue that the militia system unifies the country and must be preserved.

Whether expats would be compensated for serving in a foreign militia, such as by quicker access to citizenship or naturalisation, is currently unclear. Service Citoyen now have 18 months to find the 100.000 signatures required to bring the issue to the ballot.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Editor for Switzerland at IamExpat Media. Jan studied History at the University of York and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Though born in York, Jan has lived most...

Read more



Leave a comment