Swiss citizenship process favours native German speakers, report finds
A new report by Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen (SRF) has discovered that fewer naturalisations have taken place in Switzerland over the past three years. What’s more, nationals from German-speaking countries are becoming more dominant in citizenship applications, over nationals from Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
Swiss citizenship applications on the decline
However, this decline is not seen in all national groups. The city of Lucerne reported that in 2020, almost double the number of German nationals received Swiss citizenship than the year before, while the number of new citizens from Sri Lanka fell by 75 percent.
Huge disparity blamed on 2018 law change
SRF attributes this to a change in the law in 2018, which reduced the amount of time a person has to hold a residence permit in order to apply for citizenship down from 12 years to 10. However, this change also meant that only C (or settlement) residence permit holders could apply for citizenship, and that they would have to sit a naturalisation test in one of the languages of Switzerland before the process could even begin.
“Anyone who comes from Africa, the Middle East or Sri Lanka, often has no chance,” said Felix Kuhn, President of the Lucerne Naturalisation Commission. He clarified that this was not because the local or cantonal commission rejects such people, but because they usually cannot apply in the first place.
Swiss citizenship test unfair to those who aren't native German-speakers
He noted that the process has become far easier for those who are educated (for instance those who completed higher education), come from German-speaking countries or have learnt German at a young age, while those who are less educated and have learnt German through work or experience struggle in an exam setting.
Walter Leimgruber, President of the Federal Migration Commission, found that this effect could be problematic as it “leads to a two-class society." He explained, "Certain immigrants have found that citizenship remains unattainable and they seem unwelcome.” He called for the criteria for naturalisation to be relaxed and for a redesign of the language certification so that applicants who are less educated in German are able to pass the exam.
In response, National Councillor Gregor Rutz said he sees no reason to relax the rules, claiming that a settlement permit is a sign of integration into Swiss society. He affirmed that knowing a national language was essential to citizenship, as he says naturalisation is intrinsically linked to having a say through elections and referendums.