Acquiring Swiss nationality by regular naturalisation

Index

I. Introductory remarks to Swiss nationality

Is your passport just the ID you show when you travel abroad?

Swiss people definitely see it as more than that! In the Credit Suisse “Worry Barometer” survey 2018, 79% of the country’s population said that they were proud to be Swiss.

This pride stems from the country’s main political, social and economic features, such as the low crime rate (mentioned by 24% of those surveyed), neutrality (22%), democracy in the wide sense of the term (17%), standard of living (13%), order (11%) and, to a lesser extent, freedom of expression (7%) and cleanliness (6%).

Paradoxically, Switzerland has a relatively low naturalisation rate. It stands at 2.3%, below the European average of 2.7% (Croatia and Sweden are the European champions with 9.7% and 7.9% respectively). This is because naturalisation conditions are strict. The time applicants are required to have lived in the country is particularly demanding (the standard requirement is 10 years).

In 2017 and 2018 however, there were respectively 46’060 et 44’141 Swiss naturalisations, an almost absolute record after a downward trend since 2006.
This spectacular rush for Swiss passports is due to a move to close the borders following the popular initiative vote against mass immigration on 9 February 2014, as well as the new nationality law which came into force on 1 January 2018. The main groups affected by the reform have been international civil servants and students. The law put in place very restrictive conditions meaning that these groups are no longer eligible, explaining the rush for the coveted Swiss passport two years ago.

In any case, you should be aware that a naturalisation application needs to be prepared well in advance. Every year, the practice becomes stricter and the Swiss nationality procedure change. Consequently, we recommend using a lawyer who will guide you through the process and make it easier.

As you will be aware, the Swiss Confederation recognises naturalisation by jus sanguinis (maternal or paternal descent) and not jus soli, where nationality is acquired through birth in the country (as is the case in the USA, Canada, etc.). It is also possible to become Swiss by adoption, by regular naturalisation or by simplified naturalisation. Obviously, no procedure is required to secure nationality through jus sanguinis. The main groups eligible for simplified naturalisation are the foreign spouses of Swiss citizens, children of Swiss parents who do not yet have Swiss nationality, and stateless children.

This document will deal with the regular naturalisation process, as it is the most complex. We will cover the application process for the Canton of Geneva only. It is important to note that each canton has its own specific procedure and conditions.

II. Legal basis

III. Conditions for granting nationality at federal level

The Confederation sets only the minimum conditions for the regular naturalisation procedure. The cantonal authorities can impose additional conditions for naturalisation.

Since 1 January 2018, under article 9 SCA, as a foreign national with a valid permanent residence permit (permit C), you can submit an application for regular naturalisation at any time after your ninth birthday if you have lived in Switzerland for at least 10 years (calculated from the date you submitted your request for residence), to include a three-year uninterrupted stay during the 5 years preceding your application.

Years spent in Switzerland between the ages of 8 and 18 count double. There is however a minimum required stay of 6 years.

In addition, years in which you held a permit N (asylum seeker), G (cross-border commuter), S (person in need of protection) or L (short-term resident) do not count. Time during which you held a legitimation card (or a similar residence permit such as a permit Ci) does count, and time spent with a permit F (temporary permit) is halved and counted (article 33 SCA).

In consequence, if you are physically living in Switzerland but are not entitled to do so under the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals and Integration (FNIA; RS 142.20), or if you hold the required authorisation but do not actually live in Switzerland, you do not meet the residency conditions laid down by federal law and are not entitled to the Swiss nationality.

So, you are required to prove that you fulfil the Swiss residency condition: that you have established a stable, long-term home in Switzerland. You must have family, professional or educational ties with the place in which you live, and specific material ties that demonstrate that this is the centre of your interests in Switzerland.

Formerly, if you made your application with your husband or wife, and only one of you met the conditions set out above, a stay of 5 years, to include the year before the application was submitted, was acceptable for the second spouse so long as you had been living together for 3 years. Unfortunately, as of 2018, this option is no longer available. To be eligible for Swiss nationality, each spouse must now meet the residency conditions individually.

However, simplified naturalisation still exists for foreign spouses of Swiss citizens, except where they have been naturalised under the regular procedure since the wedding. (Conditions: have lived together for 3 years and have lived in Switzerland for 5 years, including the year before the application is submitted.) The same rules apply if you are a foreign national in a registered partnership, but your partner will be required to apply for regular naturalisation (permit C required) and not simplified naturalisation (article 10 SCA).

Generally, your children under 18 are included in your naturalisation application, so long as they live with you (article 30 SCA). Children aged under 2 are included without any further formalities. From 2 upwards, they are included so long as they have been living in Switzerland for at least two years. In this case, the child’s naturalisation application is made by their legal representative. (Both parents’ consent is however required, except if an exception is unavoidable.) Young people over 16 but under 18 must express their intention to acquire Swiss nationality in writing. Finally, please note that for children aged 12 and over, the conditions outlined below (integration, etc.) will be examined separately as appropriate to the age of the child.

As a general rule, your child’s age when the application is made is taken into account when deciding whether they are included in a naturalisation authorisation. However, there are exceptions in some cantons (Geneva is one) if the child reaches 18 years of age before the parents are naturalised.

A child not included in a naturalisation application made by one of their parents (where the child was under 18 when the parent in question submitted their naturalisation application) can submit a simplified naturalisation application before their 22nd birthday, if they have lived in Switzerland for a total of 5 years, including the three years before the application is made (art. 24 SCA).

In addition to the conditions set out above, you must meet the other requirements for regular Swiss nationality, and in particular those set by the canton and commune.

Before the authorities grant the federal naturalisation authorisation (see XI) below), they will check that you meet the requirements for Swiss nationality (art. 11 and 12 SCA).

In particular, they will ensure that you:

  • are integrated into Swiss society; (you have the ability to communicate in a national language in everyday situations, both orally and in writing, article 6 SCO);
  • are accustomed to the Swiss lifestyle and Swiss customs (article 2 SCO);
  • show respect for public security and order (clear criminal record both in Switzerland and abroad, no debt enforcement or insolvency proceedings in the last five years, no wages withheld, all taxes, child maintenance, rent, social charges and fines paid and you have not publicly expressed support for a crime against public order, a genocide, a crime against humanity, etc., article 4 SCO);
  • show respect for the values of the Constitution (fundamental rights, military service, democracy, principle of compulsory schooling, liability to taxation, etc., article 5 SCO);
  • are contributing to the country’s economy or completing your education (in employment or education, not reliant on welfare benefits, article 7 SCO);
  • do not pose a threat to Switzerland’s internal or external security (terrorism, violent extremism, organised crime, espionage, etc., article 3 SCO);
  • encourage and support the integration of your spouse, your registered partner and your children under 18 for whom you hold parental responsibility (article 8 SCO).

As regards familiarisation with the Swiss lifestyle, the authorities will look particularly closely at whether you have a knowledge of Swiss geography, history, politics (civil rights, political structure, legal system, etc.), society (Swiss traditions, social security, health, education, etc.), and whether you take an active part in the social life and customs of the Swiss population and are in contact with Swiss people (article 2 SCO).

Under article 7 SCO, as an applicant for Swiss nationality you must be capable of supporting yourself and your family (housing, food, taxes, travel, insurance etc.) as far as you can predict, via an income, your wealth or payments such as pensions to which you are entitled. If you are in receipt of welfare benefits during the three years before you submit your application or during the Swiss nationality procedure, you will not be judged to have met the requirement to contribute to the country’s economy or continue your education, unless you have repaid those benefits in full. It is important to note that children listed on the naturalisation application can be naturalised even if the parents are in receipt of welfare benefits.

Naturally, if you are unable to meet or have difficulty meeting the integration conditions because you are sick or disabled or for another significant personal reason, your situation will be taken into account (article 9 SCO).

Failing to comply with a provision of the law on a single occasion or committing a minor offence is not an obstacle to Swiss nationality. However, repeated minor offences are considered, collectively, as a major violation of public security and order. If you are in the process of being prosecuted for a crime, your Swiss nationality application will be suspended until the criminal justice system has closed your case. This includes any case brought abroad.

Lastly, under article 8 SCO, you are required (by your financial contributions and your practical and moral support) to encourage members of your family to mix with the Swiss population, to help them learn a national language and to support them in contributing to the country’s economy or completing their education. You are also required to encourage them to take part in cultural and social events with Swiss people (in the commune, in the canton and at federal level) and in any other activities that will help them to integrate in Switzerland (clubs and organisations – sporting, cultural, social, political or similar). Of course, there is no obligation to succeed; you cannot force members of your family to integrate. Only your behaviour, as the applicant, will be analysed.

It is important to note that the Confederation’s role, at federal level, is mainly to ensure that you comply with the rule of law in Switzerland and do not pose a threat to Switzerland’s internal or external security. Local authorities, at canton and in particular commune level, are better placed to check that you are integrated into Swiss society and have adapted to the Swiss lifestyle and Swiss customs. Consequently, the Confederation makes only a cursory assessment of the latter two conditions.

You must fulfil all the material conditions for regular naturalisation, both when you submit your application and when the Swiss nationality decision is communicated to you.

IV. Cantonal level conditions for Swiss nationality

If you fulfil all the conditions of federal law as set out above, you can apply for Genevan nationality if you have concretely lived in the canton for 2 years, including the 12 months before the application is submitted (article 11 al. 1 LNat).

You are required to specify the commune whose citizenship you wish to acquire. This can be the commune you currently live in or one where you have lived in the past.

It is important to note that your permanent residency permit (permit C) must be valid throughout the entire application process from when you make your application until your regular naturalisation is granted (if it expires, the Swiss nationality procedure will be suspended until a new residence permit is issued, or at least until the decision to renew your permit has been made, even if the permit has yet to be produced and issued). You must also concretely live (be physically present) in Switzerland until your passport is issued (article 11 para. 3 LNat).

In addition, you must have ties with the canton which demonstrate that you have adapted to the Genevan way of life, have sufficient knowledge of the geography, history, politics and social specificities of the canton of Geneva, have fulfilled all relevant tax obligations, not be subject to debt proceedings,

not have any criminal convictions (including a suspended sentence), show respect for public security and order, be of good repute, speak French, be capable of supporting yourself and your family, not be in receipt of benefits, through your own fault or through abuse, be integrated into the Genevan community, and respect the fundamental rights provided for by the constitution of the Republic and Canton of Geneva (article 12 LNat).

In contrast to federal law, under the law of Geneva, a child included in a parent’s Swiss nationality application but who reaches the age of 18 years before the naturalisation is granted cannot be naturalised (article 25 al. 2 LNat). 

You should also note that the canton and the commune in which you submit your Swiss nationality application will continue to process your application even if you transfer your domicile to another commune or canton, so long as they have finished assessing the naturalisation conditions set out in section three.

V. Forms and questions

If you fulfil all the conditions set by both federal and cantonal law, you should begin by going to the canton naturalisation department (route de Chancy 88, 1213 Onex) to collect the Swiss and Genevan naturalisation form (yellow form) and the appendices to it.

One single form covers your whole family (your spouse and children under the age of 18 can be included on the same application).

You (and your spouse if applicable) are required to enter your personal details on the form (family name, given name, date of birth, parents’ names, marriage details and full address, including employer’s address) and detail everywhere you have lived since you were born, the schools you attended and the jobs you have held.

You must also complete a declaration on compliance with the rule of law (that you have not been prosecuted for or convicted of a crime) and that you have not drawn welfare benefits, sign a power of attorney giving the naturalisation department access to your tax information and complete the federal naturalisation authorisation request.

Lastly, you and your spouse are required to answer a series of questions on a special form which is updated regularly.

Questions include:

  • Why did you decide to move to Switzerland, and why did you choose Geneva?
  • Why are you applying for Swiss and Genevan naturalisation?
  • Where have you travelled outside Switzerland during the last 10 years and do you have any plans to move or travel in the near future?
  • Do you own property in Switzerland or abroad? What are your future intentions for it?
  • Have you been subject to any criminal convictions in Switzerland or elsewhere over the last 10 years?
  • What do you understand to be the civil duties you will have as a Swiss citizen?
  • What are your leisure activities (sports, the arts and associations) and how are you involved in activities in the commune and canton, including as regards your children?

Lastly, you must give the names of five Swiss friends (who are not your relations) living in the Confederation. You and your spouse can give the same names.

VI. Civil registry document

With your application for Swiss nationality, you are required to provide an original copy of a civil registry document issued within the last 6 months. This often proves to be the most complex administrative requirement.

A civil registry document is an important piece of paperwork because it shows your date and place of marriage together with current personal information for you and your spouse and any children you have had together. It is issued by

Infostar, the new digital registry. When a new event affecting civil status occurs, you present your civil registry document and a replacement is issued.

You should request your civil registry document from the office of the relevant civil status district. This will vary depending on where you live (for example, there are civil status offices for Geneva city, Carouge, Grand-Saconnex and Pregny-Chambésy, etc.). You can check which district you need to contact to have your civil registry document issued at

https://www.ge.ch/actes-etat-civil-suisses-etrangers

So long as the Swiss authorities have already been notified of your civil status events – marriages, births, etc. – the process is very simple (the document is issued within five working days and applications can be made online).

Unfortunately however, in most cases the Swiss authorities will not have been informed of civil status events that have taken place abroad, so the first stage will be to have these events recorded in Switzerland.

You should be aware that the requirements differ depending on the civil status office concerned. Some will require you to attend in person with your original passport several times while others will not, etc.

Documents and procedures vary depending on your country of origin. For example, if you are a citizen of Vietnam, you will be required to obtain an original copy of your birth certificate, have it certified by the ministry of foreign affairs in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City and then have it translated into French by the justice office of the people’s committee in the relevant district. The same applies to your marriage certificate if applicable. Original copies of these documents must then be given to the civil status officer and sent to the Swiss embassy in Vietnam to be checked and certified. The civil registry document will not be issued until this process has been completed. If you are an Italian citizen however, the procedure is much simpler.

In all cases, your first step is to go to the office of the relevant civil status district with the yellow form (first page completed), your establishment permit and your passport. The civil status officer will explain exactly which documents you need and in what format.

We strongly recommend that you request your civil registry document before you begin any other aspects of your Swiss nationality application (with the exception of the tests, see VII and VIII below). It can take up to 6 months for a civil registry document to be issued. It can also be fairly expensive, costing up to CHF 600.

VII. French language test

As integration into society is a prerequisite for acquiring Swiss nationality, you are required to demonstrate that you have a sufficient level of language to enable you to understand your rights and fulfil your obligations as a citizen, and more generally to cope with the majority of the situations you will encounter in everyday life in Switzerland.

Consequently, all Swiss nationality applicants (including spouses) are required to have at least level B1 (oral) and level A2 (written) of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. You are required to provide a language skills certificate unless:

  • you write and speak a national language which is also your mother tongue;
  • you completed at least five years of your compulsory schooling in a national language (not necessarily in Switzerland);
  • you have completed a course of upper secondary or tertiary level education in a national language (this need not necessarily have been in Switzerland).

In Geneva, the official recognised language is French. German, Italian and Romansh are not recognised.

Children who have been in compulsory education in Switzerland for less than five years attend intensive classes in the teaching language. The school is required to monitor their progress and record it regularly. The authorities handling naturalisation are entitled to ask the school to provide a certificate. This is particularly the case for children over 12 enrolled in a private school.

Of course, your language competency has already been assessed to a degree when your permanent residence permit was granted (when the requirements were oral level A2 and written level A1).

The written language requirements are not too high. You are required to be able to:

  • Understand isolated phrases and common expressions on priority topics (for example, simple personal and family information, shopping, local environment and work).
  • Communicate during basic, common tasks which only require an exchange of simple, direct information on familiar, common subjects.
  • Describe in simple terms your educational background and local environment and converse on topics relevant to everyday needs.

The oral language requirements are stricter, however. You must be able to:

  • understand the important points when communicating with the school, an employer, an estate agency or the authorities when familiar topics are discussed using clear and simple language;
  • manage to communicate in most everyday situations, for example at home, in the workplace or in a public place;
  • speak clearly and coherently about familiar subjects or topics that interest you, and talk about your own experiences;
  • express your opinions, goals, hopes and wishes, explain them and give the reasons behind them briefly.

As proof of your language skills, you will be required to provide a certificate awarded following a test that meets international criteria defined by organisations such as the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE).
The federal authorities work with the “fide” programme which identifies centres in the cantons for accreditation.

In the Canton of Geneva, the official centres are ASC Languages, Bell Switzerland SA, l’Ecole-club Migros Genève Pont-Rouge, l’Hospice générale and IFAGE. Examination dates are available (in French) at:

https://www.fide-info.ch/doc/08_Sprachenpass/fideFR08_ListeDesCentresDEvaluationFideAccredites.pdf

You should register with the centre, who will pass your registration to the fide administration department. You will take your tests (written and oral) at the centre, and they will be sent to the administration department for marking.

The fide administration department will contact you with your results. If you have been successful, you will be presented with a language passport as proof of your skills. The passport provides a consistent country-wide framework for evaluating language skills.

In theory, your language passport is valid for life. However, if your certificate is several years old and the authorities have doubts about your current language skills, you may be asked to sit another evaluation.

There are two other ways of obtaining a language passport:

  • by presenting a recognised language certificate
    If you have obtained another language certificate, either in Switzerland or abroad, and it is listed as a recognised language certificate Liste des certificats de langue reconnus (list in French), you can send it to the fide administration department in order to obtain your passport. You will receive a passport corresponding to your level of oral and written language on payment of a CHF 20 tax.
  • by presenting a B1 validation file
    If your level of language corresponds to B1 or above and you can demonstrate this, you can complete a validation file in order to obtain your language passport. Your file will be presented to specially trained experts and your language competency will be checked by way of an interview and a brief writing task.

VIII. Swiss and Geneva history, geography and institutions test

You must also take a test to demonstrate your general knowledge of Switzerland and Geneva before submitting your Swiss nationality application.

This test is held at the cantonal population office. You should bring your ID and test notification with you when you attend for the test. We strongly recommend that you register with the naturalisation department early, because the test date you are allocated may be a way off (up to 3 months).

The test lasts a maximum of 60 minutes and is administered on an iPad. It consists of 45 multiple choice questions chosen from a bank of 130. To pass, you must answer 40 questions correctly. The test is free and the results are communicated immediately.

All the information you will need is available at https://www.ge.ch/connaitre-suisse-geneve. This website includes a tutorial to help you improve your knowledge of Geneva and Switzerland (the programme is divided into five modules: history, Switzerland and the cantons, the political system, rights and obligations, and habits and customs). You can also practice the test online, as the website includes test questions which are updated regularly.

If you completed your compulsory schooling in the Canton of Geneva, you are exempt from the test (article 11 para. 3 RNat).

Children over the age of 12 must also take this test if they are not enrolled in a public school (international private school for example). Alternatively, they can pass this test during the interview with the examiner of the Cantonal Office of Population.

IX. Other documents required for the Swiss nationality

You will find below a list of the other documents that you (and your spouse if you are applying together) are required to provide with your Swiss nationality application. Of course, this list is provided for information purposes only, and requirements will depend on your particular situation.

  • a photocopy of your current permanent residency permit (permit C);
  • a photocopy of your current passport;
  • two passport-sized photos;
  • the original copy of your Swiss and Genevan history, geography and institutions test pass certificate, or your exemption from the naturalisations department;
  • the original copy of your French language test certificate under the “fide” standards, or a certificate proving that you are exempt;
  • a certificate for all the time you have spent living in Switzerland, outside the canton of Geneva (issued within the last 3 months). You should contact the communes in which you have lived as a family to obtain this document, and it should include your children under 18 and your spouse;
  • an extract from the Swiss civil registry, issued within the last 6 months (civil registry document);
  • a photocopy of your most recent fiscal taxation document (if applicable);
  • an original copy of a certificate from the cantonal tax authority issued within the last 3 months certifying that you are up to date with your tax payments or that you are exempt (e.g. if you are an international civil servant);
  • photocopies of your Swiss and foreign rental agreements and/or property deeds. With these, you should provide electricity, water and gas bills for the last 24 months, annual service charge bills and household insurance certificates. (This is so the authorities can check that you genuinely live in Switzerland and not abroad, for example across the border in France.)
  • documents regarding property developments in Switzerland or abroad;
  • an original copy of a certificate from the enforcement office certifying that you have not been subject to debt enforcement proceedings or declared insolvent within the last five years;
  • an original, clean, criminal record certificate (the version known as the “classic” certificate) issued within the last 3 months. You can order this document from the federal office of justice (Office Fédéral de la Justice – OFJ) website at:
    https://www.e-service.admin.ch/crex/cms/content/strafregister/strafregister_en
  • a full CV with copies of certificates for your qualifications. You can also include work certificates and employers’ evaluations with your application;
  • a copy of your most recent salary certificate, or your most recent accounts (if you are self-employed);
  • a copy of your most recent employment contract;
  • a photocopy of your separation or divorce decree or registered partnership dissolution order;
  • a photocopy of a court order giving you sole parental responsibility, or (if parental responsibility is shared) a copy of the other holder’s identity document and a letter from them authorising the naturalisation of your children;
  • statements proving that you are actively involved in or a member of associations, clubs or foundations (e.g. Swiss Alpine Club, local church, Grand Théâtre membership, etc.);
  • for children: most recent school registration certificate and a copy of the last school report;
  • for applicants aged under 25 who completed their compulsory schooling in the Canton of Geneva, a photocopy of your school registration certificate and a copy of your school reports;
  • a signed statement confirming that you have not been convicted of a crime, either in Switzerland or abroad, in the last 20 years;
  • power of attorney if you are using a lawyer;
  • any other documents demonstrating that you are integrated into the Swiss society.

X. Cost of the procedure

The naturalisation department collects a standard tax to cover the costs of the Swiss nationality procedure. The tax is levied for each person included on the application. The rates are:

  • CHF 300 for young people aged 11 – 17;
  • CHF 850 for young adults aged 18 – 24;
  • CHF 1,250 for people aged 25 or over;
  • CHF 1,360 for a couple where one person is aged under 25;
  • CHF 2,000 for couples aged 25 or over;
  • CHF 300 per child included in an application.

Other expenses you will incur include the federal naturalisation authorisation charge (CHF 50 for children under 18, CHF 100 for a single person over 18 applying individually and CHF 150 for a couple or a family) and the State Chancellery fees (CHF 350 per application, with children under 18 exempt). These fees are paid at the beginning or the end of the process, when the authorisation is received (by post).

You should also allow around CHF 70 for the various Swiss documents required (debt enforcement certificate, certificate for time spent living in Switzerland and criminal record certificate) plus your exam fees (CHF 250 maximum for the language test, the Swiss general knowledge test is free) and up to CHF 600 for the civil registry document (depending on your nationality).

Lawyers’ fees are in addition to this. At CROCE & Associés SA, we generally agree a set fee with you to cover legal assistance throughout the entire process, until your passport is issued.

XI. How does the process works

Contact us for detailed information about the process for the Swiss nationality.

XII. Accelerated procedure

Although there is no specific provision in law for this, an accelerated Swiss nationality procedure may be used if there is justification for it and it does not constitute preferential treatment.

The accelerated Swiss nationality procedure may be granted when the normal processing time would be unacceptably problematic for an applicant that fulfils the conditions for regular naturalisation.

The accelerated naturalisation procedure could be granted, for example, if the applicant:

  • needs to take an examination in the near future, and has to be a Swiss citizen to do so;
  • wants to do the basic training element of their military service at a relatively young age;
  • is applying for a role for which Swiss citizenship is required (e.g. customs officer, police officer, etc.) and can provide credible evidence of this, for example confirmation from the employer;
  • is an elite-level sports person and plans to represent Switzerland after naturalisation;
  • is seriously ill and wishes to take Swiss nationality before the end of their life.

XIII. The consequences of obtaining Swiss nationality

Get in touch to find out more about exactly  what obtaining the Swiss nationality would mean for you, in your specific professional and personal situation.

DON’T DELAY! SUBMIT YOUR APPLICATION FOR NATURALISATION TODAY.

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