New proposal looks to abolish residency requirements for Swiss citizenship

New proposal looks to abolish residency requirements for Swiss citizenship

For most expats, receiving a Swiss passport is a culmination of holding a residence permit for at least 10 years, attending language courses and preparing for naturalisation tests and interviews. Now, a new initiative hopes to cut or abolish the residency requirement for receiving Swiss citizenship, and standardise the application process nationwide.

New referendum hopes to simplify applying for Swiss citizenship

At a press conference on January 8, Aktion Vierviertel and Operation Libero, two political action groups, launched a new referendum designed to simplify the requirements for Swiss citizenship. Co-chair of Operation Libero, Sanija Ameti, told Blick that they were “working with other actors on an initiative for liberal citizenship” that would see radical changes to how applications are processed on the local and cantonal level.

While the text of the referendum is set to be finalised at the end of January, the core of the initiative is a plan to shorten or abolish the 10-year residency requirement for citizenship - a timescale the committee deems “much too long.” Next, the organisation said it hoped to standardise the naturalisation process and make it easier for those born in Switzerland to gain citizenship automatically. 

Swiss citizenship applications decided locally

To support their case, the committee brought forward several examples where Swiss citizenship was denied for a strange or unfair reason. While some of the processes around gaining citizenship are set nationally, most stages, like citizenship tests and interviews, are still controlled by individual councils (Gemeinden) and cantons, creating dramatic differences between communities.

Aktion Vierviertel cited the case of Mergim Ahmeti, someone who was born in Switzerland and raised near St. Gallen, who wanted to apply for citizenship when he turned 22. However, during his local citizenship interview, officials criticised his long hair and Muslim faith. He was also asked what he thought about how women used to be unable to drive in Saudi Arabia, what language he spoke at home and whether he actually had any Swiss friends.

Finally, his application was rejected by local officials after he was only able to name one of the four restaurants in town. While he did appeal the decision and was eventually awarded a red passport, he still had to pay for his lawyers.

Experts call for citizenship application reform

"The Swiss naturalisation system is one of the most restrictive in Europe,” noted historian Kijan Espahangizi, arguing that expats should be given easier access to citizenship and political participation. “When does a democracy cease to be a democracy? When 30, 40 or 50 percent of the resident population don't have political rights?” he argued.

Speaking to Blick, migration expert and professor at the University of Neuchâtel, Christin Achermann, noted that “acceptance of the initiative would be a big step for Switzerland…We have to renegotiate what it means to be Swiss today - or in other words ask ourselves: what is Switzerland?” Organisers hope to start collecting signatures for the referendum by the end of January.

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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