Swiss citizenship laws have undergone dramatic changes in the past 20 years. For one, a Swiss woman no longer loses her citizenship for marrying a foreigner.
To become Swiss, there are basically three paths: through birth, marriage (not automatic) or naturalisation. This section concerns those who would like to become Swiss or to reclaim their Swiss citizenship, both of which can require a lengthy process.
Unlike in the United States, Switzerland does not grant a child citizenship for being born on Swiss soil. A person is automatically Swiss if he or she is the child of married parents, at least one of whom is Swiss. The child of an unmarried Swiss woman is also automatically Swiss. Should an unmarried father be Swiss (and the mother a foreigner), the child can have Swiss citizenship as long as the father acknowledges paternity before the child turns legal age.
Switzerland allows citizens to hold multiple nationalities, so whether a naturalised person loses previous citizenship depends upon the other country in question.
Foreigners with no direct blood ties to Switzerland through either birth or marriage must live in the country for at least ten years before they can apply for citizenship. Years spent in the country between ages ten and 20 count double.
Knowledge of a national language to a minimum spoken level of B1 and written level of A2 will be required. Applicants for naturalisation need a “C” residence permit to apply for a Swiss passport. People on welfare and anyone with a criminal offence are in theory excluded.
The State Secretariat for Migration examines whether applicants are integrated in the Swiss way of life, are familiar with Swiss customs and traditions, comply with the Swiss rule of law, and do not endanger Switzerland's internal or external security.
The State Secretariat for Migration will then “green light” an applicant’s request to begin the naturalisation process but that does not mean citizenship is certain. Rather, cantons and municipalities have their own requirements that must be met.
After submitting your naturalisation application, you will be invited to a personal interview where you will be informed of the subsequent steps to be taken.
Naturalisation procedures vary considerably from one commune or canton to another: some communes, for instance, require applicants to take a verbal or written naturalisation test while others leave the naturalisation decision up to the communal assembly. The duration of the procedure also varies considerably from one canton to another.
Swiss citizenship is highly sought after – and correspondingly hard to get.
Foreigners married to a Swiss citizen or children of one Swiss parent (who do not yet have Swiss citizenship) are eligible to apply for fast-track citizenship. The person must be well integrated, law abiding and not endanger Switzerland’s external or internal security. Cantons and municipalities have no additional requirements that must be met but do reserve the right of appeal.
This rule generally applies to foreign spouses married to a Swiss for at least three years and who have lived in Switzerland for a total of five years, including the year immediately prior to application. People “with close ties” to Switzerland may also apply for the fast-track procedure even if they live abroad. In that case, the couple must have been married for at least six years. The spouse must have had Swiss citizenship before getting married.
Children who are not yet 22 years old and who did not get citizenship when their parents did may also apply, provided they have lived in the country for at least five years – including for one year prior to making the application. “Close ties to Switzerland” also applies (owning real estate in the country is not enough). For children born out of wedlock to Swiss fathers, an application for citizenship must be filed before the child turns 22 and the father must recognise the child as his. The child must have close links to the country.
In February 2017, the Swiss people voted to extend facilitated naturalisation to third-generation immigrants. To be eligible, they must be born in Switzerland, between nine and 25 years of age, hold a “C” residence permit and have attended at least five years of regular schooling in Switzerland. Their parents also must have lived in Switzerland for at least ten years, including five years of Swiss schooling, and hold a valid residence permit. At least one grandparent has to be Swiss or have a residence card.