Geneva Faced with the unknown prospects of this month’s referendum aimed at curbing immigration, some long-term residents eligible for naturalization are putting a rush on their applications.
So who can become Swiss, and how? Citizenship may be granted through three different channels: birth, marriage or naturalization. Contrary to the US, UK or Germany where naturalization is granted on a national basis, Switzerland’s route to the red passport depends on local rather than federal rules. Communes and cantons decide whether they want you or not.
Changes in the law, however, have meant that foreign naturalizations have increased significantly, tripling between 1992 and 2012. According to federal statistics, 33,500 foreigners became Swiss in 2012. Since the early 2000s, three groups have dominated those seeking nationality: ex-Yugoslavs, Italians and Asians. Naturalizations are far more prevalent in cities such as Zurich (8,532) and Geneva (2,271), but far lower in conservative parts, notably the two Appenzells, which granted a total of 170 in 2012.
To become Swiss, you need to have been a resident for at least 12 years before making a federal request for citizenship. If approved, it’s then up to the commune and canton. Both may introduce their own ad hoc requirements – which critics maintain opens the door to discrimination, and even racism (there appears to be a preference for Europeans). The cantons and communes have the absolute right to refuse the much sought-after droit de cité de la commune et du canton.