Initiative launched to halve residency requirements for Swiss citizenship

Initiative launched to halve residency requirements for Swiss citizenship

A new referendum has been launched that would see residency requirements for Swiss citizenship halved. The Democracy Initiative argues that current naturalisation laws deliberately exclude long-term expats and internationals from the democratic process and that citizenship applications should be made “simpler and freer.”

Swiss residency requirements halved under new proposal

At a press conference on May 23, Aktion Vierviertel or Action Four Quarters - a reference to the 25 percent of people in Switzerland who only hold residence permits - announced that the "For modern civil rights (Democracy Initiative)" had been approved by the Federal Chancellery. The organisation now has until November 23, 2024, to get the 100.000 signatures required for the proposal to be made a referendum.

The Democracy Initiative's main demand is to cut the residency requirement for citizenship by half, meaning expats and internationals would be able to become naturalised after just five years of living in Switzerland. This change would also allow both B (Residence) and C (Settlement) residence permit holders to apply for a Swiss passport.

Citizenship laws are harming Swiss democracy, supporters argue

In a statement given to Watson, Aktion Vierviertel argued that around 25 percent of the Swiss population are not citizens, meaning elections and referendums are often not decided with a plurality of votes. By their metrics, they claimed that Switzerland has the second strictest naturalisation rules in Europe, only after Cyprus.

“Today's civil rights are unworthy of a true democracy,” said Arber Bullakaj, president of Aktion Vierviertel. Speaking to Watson, he argued that "simplified and freer access to Swiss citizenship is needed." Vierviertel official Elias Studer made the point that many people have their citizenship denied for strange and unfair reasons and that in Switzerland today, there is an “undemocratic exclusion” of a significant part of the population.

Naturalisation rules already too relaxed, say SVP

In opposition to the vote, Swiss People’s Party National Councillor Gregor Rutz said that "naturalisation is the conclusion of the integration process - and not the beginning, as certain circles are demanding." He argued that the rules are already too relaxed, noting "the fact that there are people with a Swiss passport who are dependent on translators in official procedures is absurd." 

Rutz argued that the 10-year requirement and naturalisation tests are in place so that those who do apply for naturalisation are committed to civic duties like national service. “This relationship between rights and obligations is becoming increasingly imbalanced. People are demanding more and more rights, but are hardly willing to fulfil their duties,” he concluded.

Action Vierviertel sees a majority in Democracy Initiative

In response, Aktion Vierviertel’s supporters, like former National Councillor Paul Rechsteiner, said that while the idea may be a challenge to sell, with 25 percent of the population barred from voting on issues that directly affect them, a solution is needed to combat the “great challenge in terms of democratic policy.” He, along with State Councillor Lisa Mazzone, concluded that civil rights have had to be fought for before and that the policy is “capable” of winning a majority amongst the Swiss.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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