When it comes to gaining Swiss citizenship, where you live matters. Some municipalities have high rates of naturalisation while some have not granted citizenship to a single person since 1992.
A recently published study by researchers at Geneva University (UNIGE) looks at naturalisation rates by municipality between 1992 and 2017.
The municipalities of Rueyres (VD), Kandergrund (BE) and Wintersingen (BL) have not granted citizenship to a single individual over this time period. 122 other municipalities are in the same boat. If the dates are narrowed to 2011 to 2017, the list extends to 261 municipalities.
One reason behind the low rates is size and distance from the urban centres where most foreigners find jobs. Rueyres (255), Kandergrund (805) and Wintersingen (620) all have small populations. In addition, they are all quite far from Switzerland’s main urban centres. As a result the number of foreigners living in Rueyres (7), Kandergrund (59) and Wintersingen (51) is low.
In addition to location and low foreign populations, fear of the stigma of failing the naturalisation process in small communes is another reason that might explain low naturalisation rates, according to one of the report’s authors. Large populations confer greater anonymity.
At the same time there are small far flung communes with low foreign populations and high rates of naturalisation. For example Altbüron, with a population of 1,005, which includes 102 foreigners, naturalised 27 people between 2010 and 2017. Habsburg (433) and Eischoll (438) are two other examples of small communes with high naturalisation rates.
And while municipalities with high rates of naturalisation tend to be urban and populous or well connected to large urban centres, there is a wide range even among large urban centres.
The municipalities of Zurich (3.48%), Lausanne (2.98%) and Geneva (2.71%) had high standardised naturalisation rates between 2011 and 2017. But Basel (1.66%) and Bern (1.42%) had rates below the Swiss average (1.91%).
The gross naturalisation rate is the number of naturalisations divided by the foreign population. The standardised rate is an attempt to calculate how easy it is to become Swiss in a municipality. It attempts to make rates comparable by adjusting for differences in age, country of birth and time in Switzerland, things correlated with application rates.
There are no great differences between French- and German-speaking Switzerland.
Standardised naturalisation rates between 2011 and 2017 in the cantons of Zurich (2.58%) and Geneva (2.83%) are not far apart. Philippe Wanner, one of the authors, points to small differences. In French-speaking Switzerland more is done to facilitate the naturalisation of young second generation foreigners. This bumps up rates a little west of the “röstigraben”, a notional line dividing French and German speakers.
Gipf-Oberfick, a municipality that made headlines in 2017 over the rejection of the naturalisation of anti cow bell campaigner Nancy Holten, has a standardised naturalisation rate of 1.23%, not too far below the Swiss average of 1.91%.