Acquiring Swiss nationality by regular naturalisation

Each year, CROCE & Associés SA helps at least ten clients through the Swiss and Genevan naturalisation process. With the changes to the federal law on naturalisation due to come into effect on 1 January 2018, if you are an international civil servant or student who meets the conditions for naturalisation, we recommend that you submit your application as soon as possible.

  1. Introductory remarks
  2. Legal basis
  3. Conditions for granting nationality at federal level
  4. Cantonal level conditions
  5. French language test
  6. Swiss and Genevan history, geography and institutions test
  7. Forms, documents and questions
  8. Cost of the procedure
  9. How the process works
  10. The consequences of obtaining a Swiss passport
  11. Changes to current laws

I. Introductory remarks

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, a full 94% of the country’s population said that they were proud to be Swiss.

It is the country’s political and economic status that makes them proud. They appreciate, for example, Switzerland’s neutrality (96% of respondents), federal constitution (93%), popular rights (89%), independence (84%), federalism and cohabitation (both 81%). Swiss people are particularly proud of their watchmaking industry (97%) and the international reputation for quality and reliability enjoyed by Swiss brands abroad (96%).

Paradoxically, Switzerland has a relatively low naturalisation rate. It stands at 1.8%, below the European average of 2.6%. 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 12 years).

In 2015 however, there were 40,588 naturalisations, 20% up on 2014. Previously, numbers had been on 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 due to come into force on 1 January 2018. The main groups affected by the reform will be international civil servants and students. The law will put in place very restrictive conditions that mean that these groups will no longer be eligible for a coveted Swiss passport.

If you are a student or international civil servant and you meet the naturalisation conditions, we recommend you submit your application as soon as possible.

Even if you do not fall into these categories, you should be aware that a naturalisation application needs to be prepared well in advance. Every year, the conditions become stricter and the procedures 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 page 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

Under article 15 SCA, as a foreign national over the age of 11 with a valid residence permit, you can submit an application for regular naturalisation if you have lived in Switzerland for at least 12 years, to include 3 years during the 5 years preceding your application.

Years spent in Switzerland between the ages of 10 and 20 count double.

If you make your application with your husband or wife, and only one of you meets the conditions set out above, a stay of 5 years, to include the year before the application is submitted, is acceptable for the second spouse so long as you have been married and living together for 3 years. If your spouse has already been naturalised, you are subject to this same time period (art. 27 SCA). The same rules apply if you are a foreign national in a registered partnership.

Generally, your children under 18 are included in your naturalisation application (art. 33 SCA). (There are however certain exceptions, for example in the absence of written consent or if the child has not been living in Switzerland for at least 2 years.) The child’s naturalisation application is made by their legal representative. Young people over 16 but under 18 must express their intention to acquire Swiss nationality in writing.

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

Before the authorities grant the federal naturalisation authorisation, they will check that you meet the requirements for naturalisation (art. 14 SCA).

In particular, they will ensure that you:

  • are integrated into Swiss society;
  • have adapted to the Swiss lifestyle and Swiss customs;
  • comply with the rule of law in Switzerland and;
  • do not pose a threat to Switzerland’s internal or external security.

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.

IV. Cantonal level conditions

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 (art. 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.

You can apply regardless of the type of residence permit you hold. From 2018 (see XII below), Swiss naturalisation applications will be accepted only from people holding settlement permits (permit C). Students (permit B) and international civil servants (legitimation card or permit Ci) will be excluded.

It is important to note that your residence permit must be valid throughout the entire application process (if it expires, the procedure will be suspended until a new residence permit is issued). You must also concretely live (be physically present) in Switzerland until your passport is issued.

In addition, you must have ties with the canton which demonstrate that you have adapted to the Genevan way of life, have fulfilled all relevant tax obligations, not be subject to debt proceedings, not have any criminal convictions (including a suspended sentence), 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 (art. 12 LNat).

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

V. 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 French to enable you to understand your rights and fulfil your obligations as a citizen.

You will be required to take an oral test lasting 15 to 45 minutes. The required level of proficiency equates to level A2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

You must 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.

It is important to note that all applicants are required to take the test. This includes your spouse if you are applying as a couple.

You are exempt if French is your native language, you completed your compulsory schooling in the Canton of Geneva or you hold a recognised language qualification (see art. 11 para. 2 RNat). The cantonal naturalisation department will make the decision on a case by case basis using the documents provided.

You should register in person with the centre of your choice: Université Ouvrière de Genève (UOG, place des Grottes 3, 1201 Geneva, telephone 022 733 50 60) or OSEO Genève (rue Pécolat 5, 1201 Geneva, telephone 022 595 45 00). The test fee is CHF 90 per person. You will be required to show your ID (passport, driving licence, residence permit, etc.) at the test.

VI. 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 naturalisation 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 online. The authorities’ 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 (art. 11 para. 3 RNat).

VII. Forms, documents 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 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 complete the form and attach all the necessary documents. The process to collect the latter can be cumbersome especially regarding the so-called “civil registry document”. A professional advisor can be very useful in this regard. In fact, the exact process for having your civil registry document issued depend on your nationality and family situation. We can provide precise information on request.

We will also be pleased to draw up a list of the other documents required by the naturalisation department according to your family situation and employment status.

You must then complete a declaration on compliance with the rule of law, sign a power of attorney giving the naturalisation department access to your tax information and complete the federal naturalisation authorisation request.

Moreover, 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 12 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?
  • 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?

Of course, we can help you answering these tricky questions.

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

VIII. Cost of the procedure

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

  • CHF 920 for foreign nationals aged over 25 years;
  • CHF 500 for foreign nationals aged under 25 years (set fee).

If you are aged over 25 years, the standard tax is doubled to CHF 1,840 if your unified income for calculation purposes (RDU certificate: this special document must also be collected) is between CHF 40,001 and CHF 80,000. It is tripled to CHF 2,760 if your RDU is between CHF 80,001 and CHF 120,000. It is quadrupled to CHF 3,680 if your RDU exceeds CHF 120,001.

This tax is collected when you submit your application and is not refundable, regardless of the outcome of the process.

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 and CHF 150 for a couple) and the State Chancellery fees (CHF 380 per application, with children under 18 exempt). These fees are paid at 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 90 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).

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

IX. How does the process works

Contact us for detailed information about the process.

X. The consequences of obtaining a Swiss passport

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

XI. Changes to current laws

On 20 June 2014, the Swiss Parliament approved an amendment to the SCA. On 17 June 2016, the Federal Council passed the ordinance on Swiss nationality (OLN). Both enter into force on 1 January 2018.

Under the new SCA, you will only be eligible for naturalisation if you hold a permanent residency permit (permit C), have lived in Switzerland for at least 10 years (rather than the previous 12 years) and are well integrated.

Time spent in Switzerland between the ages of 8 and 18 years will count double, subject to an absolute minimum required stay of 6 years.

Years during which you held a permit L or N will no longer be counted. The time you lived in Switzerland under a permit F will be halved and counted, and any time when you held a legitimation card will be counted in full.

You will be considered to have successfully integrated into society so long as you: can communicate verbally and in writing in a national language, respect public order and security (clear criminal record, no debt enforcement or insolvency proceedings, taxes paid) and the values of the Constitution, are contributing to the country’s economy or following a training course, and are working to integrate your family. Also, you must not pose a threat to Switzerland’s internal or external security, and you must be familiar with the Swiss way of life (have a knowledge of the country’s geography, history, politics and society, take an active part in Swiss social and cultural life and be in contact with Swiss people).

The Federal Council now requires candidates to have proficiency in a national language equivalent to level B1 (oral) and level A2 (written) of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. You will be required to prove your linguistic ability (for example by way of a language qualification). No certificate will be required if you are a native speaker or if you have completed schooling or gained a qualification in a national language. The Federal Council no longer requires this schooling or training to have been undertaken in Switzerland. You will not be eligible for naturalisation if you are reliant on benefits during the application process, or have received benefits during the 3 years preceding your application. However, if you have reimbursed in full any benefits you received, you will be eligible.

Lastly, the fees collected by the Confederation, and in particular the way they are collected will change. They will be payable in advance, so that costs will be covered even if your application is rejected or withdrawn.