In 2017, in a referendum, 60.4% of Swiss voters agreed to let third-generation residents apply for citizenship via a fast-track process, which was opened in February 2018. However, out of the roughly 25,000 third-generation residents qualifying, only 1,847 (7%) of them had naturalised by the end of 2020, according to a recent report published by a government commission, a number far below what was expected.
Third-generation residents are people who were born in Switzerland and have a grandparent who lived or was born in the country.
Unlike the standard process, which requires approval from the commune of residence, canton, and federal authorities, the facilitated or fast-track process is approved only at a federal level, with cantons granted a right to intervene if requested.
All other normal requirements, such as paying tax, not receiving welfare, respecting the law and command of a national language are still required to obtain citizenship under the fast-track process.
To qualify, applicants need to have been born in Switzerland, followed at least 5 years of compulsory Swiss school, hold a C-permit and be well integrated. In addition, at least one parent must have lived in Switzerland for at least 10 years and one grand parent must have had a residence permit or been born in Switzerland.
According to the study conducted by Philippe Wanner, a demographer at Geneva University and Rosita Fibbi, a social science researcher at Neuchâtel University, the reason behind the poor take up of fast-track citizenship among this group is obstacles in the process.
One of the first challenges faced is proving third generation status. Many applicants must provide proof that a grandparent legally lived in Switzerland. This can be difficult if grandparents have passed away or left the country. Over the years, old residence permits and other documents may have been lost or destroyed.
The next hurdle is providing evidence that a parent completed 5 years of compulsory Swiss school. In some cases parents followed their parents years later because their parents were in Switzerland working as seasonal workers. In some cases they came near the end or after compulsory school and didn’t spend 5 years in the Swiss school system. In addition, schooling or training after the end of compulsory school does not count.
Then there is the age cut off for applying, which is currently 35. However, from 15 February 2023, this will fall to 25. According to the authors, this could limit numbers as some don’t think about becoming Swiss until they are older, for example when starting a family.
Help and advice is also in short supply. Municipalities, which are the first point of contact, often find it difficult to advise applicants because the requirements are so complicated.
Another phenomenon revealed by the data is a large gender difference. Between the ages of 18 and 25 third-generation women gaining citizenship under the scheme outnumbered men by a ratio of around 5 to 1. This is likely related to compulsory military service, an obligation that applies to men but not to women, which must begin before a man’s 25th birthday. This gender imbalance declines but remains noticeable after 25. This may be due to the supplementary tax men who fail to serve in the Swiss military must pay until the age of 37.
The fast-track process, which bypasses cantons, has proved most popular in cantons with high fees or tough application criteria for regular naturalisation. The highest per capita rates of uptake were in Appenzell Innerrhoden, Schwytz, Aargau and Thurgau. A normal application in Schwytz costs CHF 3,600, compared to CHF 800 in Lausanne. Aargau made headlines in 2016 when an anti-cow bell campaigner had her application rejected for a second time because she was deemed insufficiently integrated. In the cantons of Uri (46.5% yes), Schwyz (45.8%), Obwalden (46.4%), Glaris (49.6%), Appenzell-Innerrhoden (43.6%), and St. Gallen (49.8%) a majority of voters were against the fast-track process.
To increase the number of third-generation naturalisations, the study’s authors recommend expanding the range of documents that can be used to prove the residency of grand parents, expanding the definition of Swiss schooling applied to parents to include post compulsory school training, removing the age limit and educating municipal administrators and applicants regarding the process.