Becoming a Swiss citizen is a lengthy and sometimes arduous process. For those with an EU passport 10 years of residency is required before applying. In addition, there are language requirements, general knowledge tests, proof of not having received welfare recently and of having paid taxes, along with typically significant fees, depending on the canton. Some of the naturalisation process is managed at the federal level, with key elements done at municipal and cantonal levels. This means some cantons and municipalities are more difficult than others.
The elements of the process that trip people up tend to be at the cantonal and municipal levels. Some municipalities and cantons set general knowledge questions that many Swiss natives would fail to answer correctly. SRF recently reported cases of applicants failing to answer obscure subjective questions set by two municipalities in the canton of Schwytz. Applicants were asked if they knew the most common local cow colour or to list two kinds of animals in the local zoo. Subjective and personal questions were also asked, such as whether there should be more immigration in Switzerland or whether the applicant’s children take swimming lessons. Barbara von Rütte, a civil rights lawyer interviewed by SRF, was critical of these questions. According to her questions with no correct answer are problematic. Naturalisation is not a political decision or a privilege but an administrative act, according to the expert.
Unsurprisingly, over the 23 years from 1998 to 2020 the canton of Schwytz had the lowest rate of naturalisation in Switzerland. The average annual rate of regular naturalisation in the canton was 0.9% of foreign residents. A further 0.5% were naturalised at a federal level – some foreign residents, such as foreigners married to a Swiss, can obtain citizenship at a federal level and bypass the cantonal and municipal authorities. This process is faster, less costly and purely administrative.
Cantons with the highest annual rates of regular naturalisation include Zurich (2.2%), Geneva (2.1%), Neuchâtel (1.9%), Luzern (1.8%), Bern (1.7%), Ticino (1.7%) and Vaud (1.7%). The Swiss average between 1998 and 2020 was 1.7%. Cantons at the other end of the spectrum include Schwyz (0.9%), Solothurn (1.1%), Thurgau (1.1%), Fribourg (1.1%), Graubunden (1.2%) and Nidwalden (1.2%).
In general, the more urban cantons and municipalities put fewer hurdles in the way of those aspiring to become Swiss citizens. But even there it is a lengthy and costly process.
Naturalisation rates by canton (in English)