Swiss to relax citizenship rules for some foreigners

Simplified naturalisation of third-generation immigrants was passed in a national referendum

Swiss voters have their say on such issues as immigration and tax reform. Photograph: Benjamin Manser/Keystone/AP

Swiss voters have their say on such issues as immigration and tax reform. Photograph: Benjamin Manser/Keystone/AP


Voters in Switzerland have opted to make it easier for “third-generation foreigners” to get Swiss citizenship.

The “simplified naturalisation of third-generation immigrants” measure passed in a national referendum with 60.4 per cent of the votes, Swiss broadcaster SRF reported.

It simplifies applications for anyone under 25 whose parents and grandparents have lived in Switzerland for some years.

The measure gives young people who qualify the same fast-track, simplified access to Swiss citizenship that foreign spouses of Swiss nationals often enjoy.

The citizenship initiative affects just under 25,000 people but the long-term implications are far-reaching. Roughly one quarter of Switzerland’s total population of 8.2 million is foreign-born, one of the highest such percentages in Europe.

Not in EU

Switzerland, which is not in the European Union but is all but surrounded by bloc members, has been taking in foreigners for centuries.

As in some other parts of Europe, being born in Switzerland does not automatically confer Swiss citizenship.

The “third-generation foreigners” initiative strikes at a Europe-wide dilemma about how best to integrate newcomers, but generally involves people from elsewhere in Europe or Turkey whose families have been in the Alpine nation for decades.

It does not apply to migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East who have poured into Europe in the last several years, sparking a backlash among many on the political far-right.

Voters, however, rejected a complex tax reform initiative aimed at bringing Switzerland in line with international standards.

Tax reform

SRF reported that 59.1 per cent of voters rejected the tax reform measure, which would have scrapped a two-track tax system that offers lower rates to foreign firms to lure investment.

Experts say the tax initiative’s failure means that overall rates are likely to be set higher – which would be a disincentive to companies that bring in jobs and ultimately tax revenues.

Sunday’s referendum was the latest instalment of Switzerland’s direct democracy that gives voters a frequent say on political decisions. A third issue on the national ballot involving infrastructure spending passed with 61.9 per cent of the votes.

Voters in the eastern Graubuenden canton, or region, also decided against a bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics. Four years ago, the region rejected a similar referendum about the 2022 Winter Games, which were eventually awarded to Beijing.

– (AP)