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Swiss nationality law
Swiss nationality law

Swiss citizenship is the status of being a citizen of Switzerland and it can be obtained by birth or naturalisation.

The Swiss Citizenship Law is based on the following principles:

Swiss nationals are citizens of their municipality of origin, their canton of origin, and the Confederation, in that order: a Swiss citizen is defined as someone who has the bourgeoisie of a Swiss municipality (article 37 of the Swiss Federal Constitution). They are entered in the family register of their place of origin. The manner by which a Swiss citizen acquires their place of origin differs depending on whether they acquired Swiss citizenship by filiation (jus sanguinis), ordinary naturalisation, or facilitated naturalisation. Marriage has in and of itself no effect on the places of origin of the spouses.[1]

Acquisition of Swiss citizenship

A child is Swiss at birth if:

  • They are the child of a married couple of whom at least one parent is Swiss.[2]
  • They are the child of a Swiss mother not married to the child's father.[3]

A child of a Swiss father not married to the mother is considered Swiss by birth when a link of paternity is declared; any children of that child also acquire Swiss citizenship by filiation.[4] The child of two Swiss citizens who are married at the time of the child's birth acquires the places of origin of the parent whose surname the child acquires.[5]

A foundling acquires Swiss citizenship and the citizenship of the canton in which they are found. The canton decides which place of origin the child receives. Once paternity is determined, the child loses Swiss citizenship, unless this would leave him or her stateless.[6]

A child adopted by a Swiss parent acquires the place of origin of the Swiss parent, thereby acquiring Swiss nationality.[7]

Ordinary naturalisation in Switzerland is a cantonal competency but regulated by federal legislation. On 20 June 2014, the two Chambers of the Swiss Parliament passed the Total Revision of the Federal Law Concerning the Acquisition and Loss of Swiss Nationality (Révision totale de la loi sur l'acquisition et la perte de la nationalité suisse). The Law, first introduced in 2011 by the Swiss federal government, aimed to lower, among other requirements, the residency requirement from 12 years to 8 years.[8] During the parliamentary debates and the ensuing disagreements between the more conservative National Council (lower house) and the more liberal Council of States (upper house), the residency requirement was increased to 10 years. The time spent in Switzerland between the ages of 8 and 18 is doubled when counted for purposes of applying for naturalisation, however, an applicant must have spent at least 6 years in Switzerland.[9] The law also requires cantons to set a minimum residency requirement of between 2 and 5 years, as well as requiring applicants to have a permanent residency permit (Autorisation d'établissement), which is commonly referred as a C permit.[10][11] Additionally, time spent in Switzerland with temporary admission (Permis d'admission provisoire) is halved counting the years spent in Switzerland for the purposes of naturalisation.[12] The 2014 Total Revision of the Federal Law Concerning the Acquisition and Loss of Swiss Nationality entered into force on 1 January 2018. Applications for naturalisation submitted prior to the entry into force of the new nationality law will continue to be processed under the 1952 law.[13] The federal nationality law of 2014 imposes two formal conditions which an applicant for naturalisation must satisfy:

  • Ten years of lawful residence in Switzerland including three of the five years immediately preceding the application.[14] The time spent in Switzerland between the ages of 8 and 18 is doubled when counted for purposes of applying for naturalisation, however, an applicant must have spent at least six years in Switzerland.[15] An exception is made for registered partners of Swiss citizens where the registered partnership has lasted at least three years and the Swiss citizen was already a Swiss citizen at the moment of the conclusion of the partnership: the foreign registered partner must have lived a total of five years in Switzerland, including the year immediately preceding the application.[16]
  • Be a permanent resident.[17]

In addition to the aforementioned formal conditions, the federal nationality law of 2014 also imposes material conditions which an applicant for naturalisation must meet:[18]

  • The applicant must be well integrated,
  • The applicant must be familiar with life in Switzerland,
  • The applicant must not endanger Switzerland's interior or exterior security,
  • The applicant must show respect for public order and security,
  • The applicant must respect the values of the federal constitution,
  • The applicant must be able to communicate in a national language, both orally and in writing,
  • The applicant must participate in the economy or be in education,
  • The applicant must, if married, in a registered partnership, or a parent, encourage and support the integration of his or her spouse and/or minor children

Cantons can impose further requirements which are complementary to the federal requirements.

Foreigners in the following categories may apply for simplified naturalisation:

  • The spouse of a Swiss citizen[19]
  • A person who was mistakenly treated as a Swiss citizen and believed himself to be a Swiss citizen[20]
  • Women who lost Swiss citizenship through marriage to a non-Swiss citizen, or through the loss of Swiss citizenship by their husband, before 23 March 1992
  • The child of a naturalised person[21]
  • Third-generation immigrants[22]
  • Children born to Swiss mothers who lost their citizenship due to marriage to a foreigner before 23 March 1992 but who later reacquired their former Swiss nationality
  • Children born to Swiss mothers who had acquired Swiss citizenship themselves on the basis of a previous marriage to a Swiss husband
  • Persons born before 1 July 1985 whose mothers had acquired Swiss citizenship by descent, adoption, or naturalisation

A person married to a Swiss citizen may apply for Swiss citizenship by facilitated naturalisation after living in Switzerland for five years and having been married for at least three years. No language test is required, but one must show the following:

  • integration into the Swiss way of life;
  • compliance with the Swiss rule of law;
  • no danger to Switzerland's internal or external security.

Children from the person's previous relationships (but not same-sex couples) are given citizenship along with the partner.

It is also possible for the spouse of a Swiss citizen to apply for facilitated naturalisation while residing overseas after the following:

  • Six years of marriage to a Swiss citizen.
  • Close ties to Switzerland, i.e. travelling regularly to Switzerland, being an active member of a Swiss club abroad, and/or having close relations to the family of their Swiss spouse.

Spouses acquiring Swiss citizenship by facilitated naturalisation will acquire the citizenship of the place and canton of origin of their Swiss spouse.

The federal constitution declares that the Confederation will facilitate the naturalisation of third generation immigrants (Art. 38 §3 part a). Legislation has yet to be introduced describing the precise requirements for an application for facilitated naturalisation under article 38 §3 part a.

The Canton of Vaud legislated in 2004 to allow for second-generation foreigners to acquire Swiss nationality more easily under the following conditions:[23]

  • The applicant must meet the requirements set by federal law.
  • Aged between 14 and 25 years.
  • Has completed at least five years of obligatory education in Switzerland.
  • Has at least two years' residence in Vaud.
  • Has not lived abroad since the end of his or her obligatory education, with the exception of temporary stays abroad for purposes of education.
  • One of the applicant's parents must currently be lawfully resident in Switzerland or have been so in the past.
  • Integration and command of the French Language.
  • Lawful behaviour.
  • The applicant must not represent a danger for Swiss national security.

The 2004 law also facilitates the naturalisation of foreigners of the 3rd generation under the following conditions:[24]

  • The applicant must meet the requirements set by federal law.
  • At least two years' residence in Vaud.
  • The applicant must have not resided outside Switzerland since his birth, with the exception of temporary stays abroad for purposes of education.
  • Integration and command of the French Language.
  • The applicant must not represent a danger for Swiss national security.

The yearly rate of naturalisation has quintupled over the 1990s and 2000s, from roughly 9,000 to 45,000 naturalisations per year.

Relative to the population of resident foreigners, this amounts to an increase from 8% in 1990 to 27% in 2007, or relative to the number of Swiss citizens from 0.16% in 1990 to 0.73% in 2007.

Foreigners in the following category can apply to have their nationality restored:

  • Children whose mothers had acquired Swiss citizenship by virtue of marriage to a Swiss husband (before 31 December 1991).
  • Children of Swiss parents born abroad who were not registered at a Swiss representation abroad before their 22nd birthday can reacquire their nationality within a period of ten years immediately following their 22nd birthday.
  • Children for whom the ten year limit has expired can nevertheless still apply to recover their former Swiss nationality if they can prove a "close relationship with Switzerland."
  • Former Swiss nationals whose Swiss citizenship ceased due to an application for release under articles 37-41 of the nationality law.

Formal conditions:[25]

  • Residence in Switzerland or close links to Switzerland if resident abroad.
  • The applicant must respect Swiss public order and security.
  • The applicant must respect the values of the constitution.
  • The applicant must not endanger Switzerland's interior or exterior security.
  • Applicants having ceased to be Swiss nationals due to expiry, release, or loss must apply within ten years of ceasing to be Swiss nationals. This rule does not apply to former nationals currently residing in Switzerland for at least three years.[26]

Loss of Swiss citizenship

A child whose Swiss citizenship depends on paternal links loses citizenship when those are cut.[27]

A Swiss child adopted by foreign parents is considered to have lost Swiss citizenship; if the adoption is subsequently annulled, the loss of nationality is retroactively invalidated.[28]

A Swiss citizen born abroad to at least one Swiss parent and holding at least one other nationality loses Swiss citizenship at age 22 if:

  • They have never been announced to the Swiss authorities, or [29]
  • They have never written to the Swiss authorities expressing their desire to retain Swiss citizenship, or [30]
  • They (or their guardians) have never sought to procure Swiss identity documents for them, i.e. a passport or an identity card.[31]

Equally, the child of a person who loses Swiss nationality in this manner also loses Swiss nationality.[32] Exceptionally, a person who has been prevented, against their will, from taking the necessary actions to retain Swiss citizenship may undertake the required actions within a delay of 1 year following the cessation of such hindrances.[33]

Triple citizenship level within Swiss citizenship

Each municipality in Switzerland maintains its own registry of citizens, which is separate from the registry of people living in the municipality. Many Swiss citizens do not live in their place of origin; therefore, they are often required by the municipality in which they live to get a certificate of citizenship (acte d'origine/Heimatschein/atto d'origine) from their place of origin. The constitution forbids discrimination based on one's place of origin, with the exception of bourgeoisies.[34]

Dual nationality

According to the Federal Office for Migration, there has been no restriction on multiple citizenship in Switzerland since 1 January 1992. Thus, foreigners who acquire Swiss citizenship and Swiss citizens who voluntarily acquire another citizenship keep their previous citizenship (subject to the laws of the other country). An estimated 60% of Swiss nationals living abroad in 1998 were multiple citizens.

Since many nationality laws now allow both parents to transmit their nationality to their common child (and not only the father, as used to be often the case), many children automatically acquire multiple citizenship at birth. This is especially prevalent in Switzerland, since a relatively high proportion of the population holds a foreign passport (up to 54% in Geneva and 20% nationally). However, the Federal Office for Migration specially notes that this has not resulted in any significant practical problems. Military service, the most likely problem to arise, is usually done in the country where the applicant resides at the time of conscription.

Even though Swiss nationality law permits multiple citizenship, a Swiss national who also holds another country's citizenship may be required to renounce a citizenship, if that foreign country's nationality law forbids such multiple citizenship.

Political discussions and referendums about Swiss citizenship in Switzerland in recent years

Swiss citizenship laws have been widely debated over recent years. In comparison to other nationality laws, access to Swiss citizenship is relatively narrow and restricted, and several modifications to widen access to Swiss citizenship via constitutional initiatives and referendums have been proposed. The referendums on the matter – held in 1983, 1994, and 2004 – were all rejected by Swiss voters. In particular, during the referendum held in September 2004, Swiss voters rejected proposals [35] to give some long-resident Swiss-born persons aged between 14 and 24 the right to apply for facilitated naturalisation (which bypasses cantonal and municipal requirements) and grant automatic Swiss citizenship to persons born in Switzerland with a parent also born in Switzerland.

While minimal requirements for obtaining Swiss citizenship by naturalisation are set at the federal level, Swiss cantons and municipalities are free to introduce more stringent requirements. Some municipalities had previously had no procedure for allowing naturalisations, effectively rendering it impossible, such as in La Chaux in the Canton of Vaud.[36] In 1999, the municipality of Emmen and the canton of Lucerne began using referendums to decide the outcome of naturalisation requests. The practice was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in July 2003. A referendum directed at legalizing this practice was rejected on 1 June 2008.

Rights and obligations of Swiss citizens

Swiss citizens are entitled to

  • vote in federal elections and referendums upon reaching the age of 18;
  • run for federal political office: the Federal Assembly, the Federal Council, and the Federal Court;
  • start and sign a popular initiative or a request for a facultative referendum;
  • obtain a Swiss passport or a Swiss identity card.
  • return to Switzerland at any time;
  • avoid deportation from Switzerland;
  • be able to live, work, study, buy property, and open up a business anywhere in the EU (through the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU), Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway;

Male Swiss citizens, including dual citizens, can be required to perform military service or civilian service (women can do it voluntarily). Male citizens who do not complete their military service or who do not do civilian service must pay a supplementary tax. Swiss citizens are not allowed to work for a foreign (non-Swiss) military, unless they are a citizen of – and are resident in – the country in question. The Swiss Guards of the Vatican State are regarded as a house policy, not as an army.

Visa requirements for Swiss citizens are administrative entry restrictions by the authorities of other states placed on citizens of Switzerland. In May 2018, Swiss citizens had visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 185 countries and territories, ranking the Swiss passport 5th in the world according to the Visa Restrictions Index.

The Swiss nationality is ranked ninth, together with Ireland, in The Quality of Nationality Index (QNI). This index differs from the Visa Restrictions Index, which focuses on external factors including travel freedom. The QNI considers, in addition, to travel freedom on internal factors such as peace & stability, economic strength, and human development as well.[37]

See also

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