What expats need to know about new citizenship changes in Zurich
In the latest round of referendums, voters in Canton Zurich have approved a plan to streamline and standardise applications for Swiss citizenship. Here is what has been approved and how it affects expats and internationals.
Citizenship applications vary wildly across Switzerland
Much like in other Swiss cantons, the process of naturalisation in Zurich can vary wildly from council (Gemeinde) to council. Certain areas may require extensive language certifications, and many ask specific questions about the surrounding area, sports and community facilities or the local landscape such as lakes and mountains.
In some areas, local residents will also be given a say as to whether applicants will receive citizenship. This has been the source of much contention and of some of the strangest reasons why Swiss citizenship has been denied in the past.
In 2018, the Swiss government revised the Civil Rights Act, creating a framework where all requirements for citizenship would be standardised. However, cantons maintain significant flexibility when it comes to the process overall, which is why the issue was on the ballot in Zurich.
Major effort to streamline and standardise Swiss citizenship applications in Zurich
The referendum to standardise citizenship applications passed in Zurich with 69,1 percent of the vote. Here’s what expats need to know about the new changes:
All areas of Zurich to use the same basic knowledge test
The first change will be a standardisation of the “basic knowledge test.” Instead of each Gemeinde in Zurich deciding their own questions, the canton itself will create a 50-question test that will be the same regardless of where you live, arguably making the process easier.
The test, which is drawn from a bank of 350 pre-made questions, is meant to showcase an applicant's knowledge of Swiss history, historical sites, traditions, culture and politics, with a specific focus on Zurich itself. Anyone who takes the test must answer at least 30 questions correctly in order to pass.
Reducing costs for young people to apply
Secondly, the law will attempt to reduce the cost of applying for citizenship for young people. Depending on which canton you apply in, the cost of citizenship can range from 800 to 3.600 Swiss francs per applicant, making it unaffordable for some families and individuals. While the exact cost saving is yet to be defined, it is hoped that the reduced fee will encourage younger people to apply for simplified naturalisation.
Swiss citizenship applications to move online
The approval of the new law will also allow the canton to begin moving the process online. Currently, all applications must be done in person at the Gemeinde and with the cantonal authorities.
Cantonal authorities predict that moving applications online will streamline the process further and make it more accessible. Zurich will be joining other cantons like Vaud and Bern in allowing applications online, although a timeline for implementation is yet to be confirmed.
Tighten the rules around citizenship for young offenders
Finally, the new law is expected to tighten rules around naturalisation for young people, if the applicant has committed a crime. Currently, most cantons maintain a hardline approach to those applying for citizenship who have also committed crimes, with many areas barring applicants for up to 10 years or suspending them completely.
Under the new proposal, people under the age of 18 will not be able to apply for citizenship for two years after committing a “minor crime” such as shoplifting and property damage, or up to five years for major crimes.
Find out more about the new citizenship law in Zurich
Supporters say that by standardising and streamlining the application process, more of Zurich's expat population will feel confident enough to apply for citizenship and get themselves a Swiss passport. The new changes are just one of a number of cantonal and national referendums voted on in May. For more information on current, past and upcoming referendums in the Swiss metropolis, check out the official website.