• Adrian Tüscher, Partner |

What the upcoming changes to the Swiss Citizen Act mean for you

Recent amendments to the Swiss Citizen Act aim to facilitate the application process and reduce cantonal discretion as of 1 January 2018. One major change: Application will be restricted to C-permit holders as residents holding a B-permit will no longer qualify for naturalization.

Applications for a Swiss passport are on the rise given the backdrop of uncertainty typified by Brexit and the Stop-Mass-Immigration initiative. As the ordinary naturalization process to become a Swiss citizen is rather long, the federal government has passed legislation to facilitate the process. This new Swiss Citizenship Act takes effect on 1 January 2018.

You’ll find an overview of the major amendments to the new legislation below:

Residence requirements: C-permit only

The most substantial change is that after 1 January 2018, application for Swiss citizenship will be restricted to holders of a C-permit (settlement permit) and residents in possession of a B-permit will no longer qualify for naturalization.

Note that applications submitted before 1 January 2018 will be treated under the old legislation. B-permit holders may want to take advantage of the remaining window of time in which they qualify for naturalization by applying before 1 January 2018.

Time requirements: residency requirement reduced

Residency requirements have been reduced from 12 to 10 years. The requirements also stipulate that an applicant must reside in Switzerland for at least three years during the five-year-period preceding application for naturalization.

The canton in which the resident lives may require more specific residence requirements However, according to the new legislation, the cantons may only stipulate a maximum residence period of five years in the cantonal territory.

Integration requirements: Less cantonal discretion

The integration requirements were concretized at the federal level recently – leaving the cantons with less discretion when it comes to reviewing applications. According to the new legislation, an applicant is considered “well integrated into Swiss society” if they can prove that they:

  • respect the public order and security
  • pose no threat to internal or external security
  • respect the Swiss Federal Constitution
  • possess good oral (at least B1) and written (at least A2) command of the official language in the respective canton
  • participate in the Swiss economy or education system
  • know the local customs, history, politics, etc.
  • support the integration of family members.

In particular, the requirement for economic integration will be subject to stricter interpretation. If an applicant was dependent upon social welfare anytime during the three years prior to application, then the requirements for Swiss citizenship are not met. Previous dependency on social welfare does not pose an obstacle if the applicant has completely repaid the amount of welfare assistance received before the naturalization application.

Also new is the requirement that applicants contribute to the integration of family members. Applicants must actively support the integration of their relatives. This means that applicants must prove that they are helping family members learn the language and participate in Swiss society.

Personal circumstances considered

Under the new Swiss Citizenship Act, personal circumstances such as whether an applicant suffers a physical illness or is unable to find work are considered when reviewing the application. Taking such different criteria into account allows applicants who may have fallen into involuntary welfare dependency or suffer from a longstanding health problem to become a Swiss national.

Same but different

Overall, for those who have already reached a good level of integration (including language skills) and thus hold a C-permit, the new legal requirements may facilitate the process of obtaining citizenship. In contrast to the old legislation, the new requirements will be primarily determined at the federal level. This reduces cantonal and communal discretion which ensures applicants receive more equal treatment, irrespective of where they live within Switzerland.

What remains the same? As before, each naturalization application will be assessed by the responsible cantonal authority on a case-by-case basis, and applicants should carefully prepare their case.

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