Obtaining Swiss Citizenship
The nation of Switzerland offers numerous benefits and advantages, including unprecedented financial privacy via the nation’s ancient banking privacy laws, beautiful scenery including the famous Swiss Alps, a multicultural population, significant tax breaks (such as the non-existence of a federal inheritance or gift tax), and a representative parliamentary republic form of government. Obtaining Swiss citizenship will entitle a foreign national to these benefits and many more, which is why hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals immigrate to Switzerland every year.
First Step – Becoming a Permanent Resident
Before a foreign national can apply for Swiss citizenship, the national must first be a Swiss permanent resident for a specific amount of years. Foreign nationals may obtain permanent residency in several different ways such as through employment with a Swiss company or by pledging to pay a certain amount in taxes every year.
Regardless of how the foreign national obtains the permanent residency, the permanent residency must continue uninterrupted for twelve years (though the years spent in Switzerland between the completed 10th and 20th years may count double for citizenship purposes).
Second Step – Applying for Citizenship at the Federal Level
The process of becoming a citizen is called naturalization. Initial naturalization applications are filed with the Swiss Federal Office of Migration (FOM). Once the foreign national meets the permanent residency requirement, the national may file the application. During the application review process, the FOM evaluates how well the national has integrated him/herself into the Swiss culture and way of life, whether and to what extent the national is familiar with Swiss traditions and customs, and confirms that the national has complied with all Swiss laws and does not pose a national security threat to the country.
Once the FOM is satisfied that the national meets these requirements, the FOM gives provisional approval – called “giving the green light” for the national to acquire Swiss citizenship. The actual conferral of citizenship is reserved to the specific canton and community in which the national resides.
Third Step – Applying for Citizenship at the Canton and Community Levels
After a foreign national receives the green light from the FOM, the national may apply for citizenship in his/her canton and community. As stated, the different cantons and communities have their own particular requirements for granting citizenship.
For example, the Bern canton is a popular city for foreign nationals to relocate to as it is most populated Swiss city and serves as the country’s de facto capital. Beginning on January 1, 2014, Bern is requiring naturalization applicants to pass an examination that tests their knowledge of Swiss history, geography, social security, civics, language, rights and duties of Swiss citizens, religion, democracy, federalism and education. The test will be timed and all answers must be completed within 90 minutes and to achieve a passing score the applicant must answer at least 60% of the questions correctly. This new test requirement replaces the old requirement of simply completing a citizenship course that taught naturalization applicants about the Swiss law, the structure and organization of its government, and its everyday life and culture.
Similarly, the Zurich canton also requires its foreign national citizenship applicants to pass a test. Zurich residents must successfully demonstrate their German language proficiency through satisfactory passage of the Cantonal German Test. Zurich immigration authorities will not approve a naturalization application if the foreign national cannot pass the Cantonal German Test. Additionally, the Zurich immigration authorizes conduct their own criminal backgrounds to verify the applicant has not committed any crimes, and they also interview the applicant to ensure the person is fully integrated into the Swiss lifestyle and has a firm and demonstrable knowledge of the German aspects and influences of the Swiss lifestyle. Zurich also requires its resident to prove that they possess sufficient income or financial resources and assets to be able to provide for themselves and their families for the indefinite future.
Importantly, there is no right to an appeal of a denial of a naturalization application at any level. Moreover, there is no right to citizenship so a particular canton or community may deny a national’s application at any time.
It should also be noted that upon naturalization, Switzerland does not require the new citizen to relinquish or renounce the individual’s previous citizenship with his/her country of origin.