Becoming a Swiss citizen is a three layered process. Once certain requirements have been met, such as sufficient time in the country, evidence of integration, the ability to financially support oneself, and mastery of the local language, applications pass through three layers of approval: municipal, cantonal and federal.
An application can fail at any one of these stages and each administrative level can decide independently.
This week, Switzerland’s Federal Tribunal in Lausanne intervened to override a decision made by the municipality of Trimmis in the canton of Graubunden. The municipality rejected an Iranian refugee’s naturalisation application the grounds that he was insufficiently integrated and unable to support himself financially.
After arriving in Switzerland in 1989, the taxi driver, now in his 50s, has lived almost exclusively in Trimmis, an Alpine community of 3,300 people.
Divorced with one daughter, he received welfare from 1995 to 2001 and free legal assistance when he divorced in 2010.
In 2012, he applied to become a Swiss citizen, but his application was rejected by the local authorities in Trimmis.
In overturning the municipality’s decision to reject his application, Switzerland’s highest court argued that the decision was based on points unrelated to the criteria for naturalisation. It said that the welfare payments were no longer considered a valid reason for rejection because they were received more than 10 years ago. And, the court did not consider the free legal assistance received in 2010 to be evidence that the man could not support himself financially.
In addition, the Tribunal found flaws in the process and disagreed with some arguments related to the man’s lack of integration.
Instances of the courts overturning municipal naturalisation decisions are fairly rare. In 2017, the cantonal court in Aargau overturned a naturalisation decision by the municipality of Gipf-Oberfick. The applicant, who had protested about cow bells, had had her application rejected due to a lack of integration.
Federal Tribunal decision (in German)