What changes under the new law?
In June 2014, the Swiss Parliament modified the law regarding the conditions to obtain the Swiss citizenship. This change reflects the Parliament’s wish to facilitate the obtention of the Swiss citizenship to foreign residents who are well integrated in Switzerland.
Currently, there are between 30’000 and 40’000 individuals obtaining each year the Swiss citizenship. However, some significant changes will take place with the enforcement of the new Swiss Citizenship Federal law (LN). These modifications could have significant implications for all expatriates planning to obtain the Swiss citizenship in a near future.
a) What are the changes?
Two major changes come into force under the new law. First, 10 years instead of the current 12 are required as minimum residency duration. Secondly, only residents holding a Permis C qualify for the naturalisation process.
Thus, obtaining the Swiss citizenship no longer relies on how long a person has been residing in Switzerland, but it also depends on the nature of the resident’s permit. Moreover, applicants are required to have lived in the same canton for a period of two to five years without interruption, depending on the canton’ specifications.
b) Consequences of the law changes for foreign residents
The change of residency duration means shorter naturalisation periods for current residents holding a Permis C. Residents having lived for 10 years in Switzerland will be able to apply for the citizenship instead of having to wait 12 years. However, residents who are not holding a Permis C will no longer be able to apply for the Swiss citizenship. Therefore, the nature of the resident permit is of key importance for being eligible for the Swiss citizenship.
However, until the new law is enforced – likely in autumn 2016 – the current conditions apply (art. 50). Residents will not necessarily need to leave Switzerland under the new law, but the conditions for the obtention of the Permis C remain to be determined. For example, long-term ties developed by UN staff spouses and children qualifying for Swiss citizenship in the past could change in 2016. Young residents between 8 and 18 years old will continue to qualify for a facilitation of citizenship, their years spent in Switzerland counting double.
c) International organizations employees conditions
There is a large community of expatriates working for international organizations in the Geneva area. Most of these expatriates benefit of a “carte of légitimation” from the DFAE (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs) or a Permis Ci giving them the rights to work in Switzerland. Expatriate spouses and dependents under the age of 25 years old are entitled to work in Switzerland under a Permis Ci.
However, to this date, the carte of légitimation and Permis Ci do not qualify for the obtention of a Permis C. Under the current law, it is still possible to obtain the Swiss citizenship for expatriates holding these types of permits and fulfilling the 12 years residency criteria. With the arrival of the new law, the conditions by which expatriates will be able to apply for a Permis C to qualify for the naturalisation process remain undefined.
d) Conditions to become a Swiss citizen
Despite the residency duration being shortened, the Swiss nationality remains one of the most difficult citizenship to obtain. The Swiss authorities require high standards based on the merit of future citizens rather than their number. Applicants need to remain patient and determined, as the Swiss citizenship is not granted automatically after 10 years of residency. The Swiss authorities keep the right to examine each case at the federal, cantonal and communal level and the process can take years.
A number of criteria apply, where applicants must be able to show that they are well integrated into the Swiss community, familiar with the Swiss culture and values and are active in the workforce. The ability to speak and write fluently one of the country’s national languages (French, German and Italian) is also required. Additionally, applying for the Swiss citizenship represents significant costs.
e) Pathways to Swiss citizenship
There are currently four routes to obtain the Swiss citizenship: by birth, by adoption by Swiss citizens of a child who is a minor, by simplified naturalisation and by regular naturalisation processes. The simplified option consists of marrying a Swiss citizen and applying for citizenship after 3 years of marriage and 5 years of residency in Switzerland.
The regular naturalisation process is the one described in this article, where the applicant needs a Permis C and residency duration of a minimum of 10 years under the new law. The length of the naturalisation procedure varies considerably from one canton to another. After submitting an application, the authorities will invite the applicant to an interview where the details of the procedure will be outlined. Once Swiss citizenship is obtained, the resident will obtain voting rights and will have to comply with the Swiss obligations such as the mandatory military service.