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17 years later, and still not Swiss

Community// Politics // By Lucy Spencer // Jan. 18, 2018

Why don't more longterm residents decide to apply for citizenship?

Lucy Spencer 17 years later, and still not Swiss

I made an attempt to integrate as I began my new life in Switzerland — attending the local girl scouts, going to a Swiss-German church, not showering after 10pm in our apartment — all to make it feel like home, that I belonged.

But 17 years later, I’m still not Swiss.

And I’m not the only one.


Born in Switzerland to parents working for international organizations and resident for close to 30 years, Jorge*, is still not a citizen.

“I have looked into naturalization in passing and may apply in the future,” he told me in an interview.

Having lived almost his entire life in the quiet European country, why has he not applied for citizenship?

“C permit rights and obligations, the fact that Switzerland is within Schengen, and that I am from an EU country all mean that there is no need to become Swiss,” he said. “Inability to participate to cantonal and federal elections are the only downside.”

Recent changes to the law mean that immigrants who hold a C residency permit (longterm residency) can apply for citizenship if have lived in the country for 10 years and meet a set of expected standards, such as language proficiency, knowledge of Swiss culture and are deemed to have made a positive effort to integrate within their local community.

However, C permit holders are already able enjoy the freedoms — and taxations — of Swiss life, and can even vote in municipal elections for things like the planting of trees in a communal area. (No joke, this was my first ever vote in Switzerland.)

And for many Europeans, this is good enough for the duration of their stay in Switzerland; according to a recent survey, Western Europeans are overwhelmingly uninterested in applying for citizenship.Of those asked, only 25% of Austrians, 27% of Portuguese, 30% of Spanish, 34% of British and 35% of Germans would like to apply for a passport.

It seems like the long, complicated and expensive process, without guarantee of being granted citizenship, is not worth the hassle for a more substantial national vote.


Shifting politics: the Brexit impact

Sarah*, a resident for nearly 20 years, never thought to apply, until Brexit. Indeed, the negotiating of Britain’s exit from the EU has seen a dramatic increase in applications by her fellow British nationals.

But UK politics hasn’t changed her mind about becoming Swiss.

“The time just never felt right to apply, but as a British citizen, the Brexit vote certainly made me consider becoming a naturalized citizen,” she told me. “I have loved living in Switzerland, but the move was done to give my kids a better life with better opportunities, and with them now moving out of the house, I am planning on returning home to my family in the near future.”

And for those who still call Switzerland home, citizenship would not change a thing.

“I don’t think having it or not changes anything regarding my relationship to the country,” Jorge said.


What do you think? Should long-term residents be mandated to apply for citizenship?


*names have been changed to at the request of the interviewees



This article first appeared on Naturally Inquisitive.  

Lucy is a freelance writer whose focus areas include technology, development and international politics. You can read more of her work on her blog.




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