Rosemarie Simmen, the outgoing head of the Swiss Federal Commission on Foreigners, says restrictions on becoming a Swiss citizen should be eased.This content was published on December 18, 2001 - 17:44
Simmen, who will leave her commission post at the end of December after almost two years in the job, said she regarded the nationality question as central to the process of integration.
"It's in the interests of all of us," Simmen told swissinfo. "You can't have that separation of people who have the same conditions of life as us, who speak the same language, but who don't have the same rights."
"It's not just a gift we give them," she continued. "They give back to us too, by becoming a part of our state and our community."
Born in Switzerland
Simmen made her remarks just a day after the Federal Office for Statistics published figures showing that almost a quarter of all foreigners now living in Switzerland were actually born here. A third of those not born in Switzerland are long-term residents, having lived here for over 15 years.
"We have to relax the rules on Swiss citizenship," said Simmen, "it should be automatic for second-generation foreigners, and it should be easier and cheaper for long term residents."
At the moment foreigners must have lived at least 12 years in Switzerland before becoming eligible for nationality, and being born in the country does not bring automatic citizenship. The process of naturalisation can also be very costly; some communities charge up to three months' salary from applicants.
Step by step process
Simmen described her work on the nationality issue as a "step by step" process, but pointed out that some progress had been made.
"At the very least the issue is well-known among the population now," she said. "Ten years ago I can remember people not thinking third generation foreigners should have the right of citizenship, but now that has been approved, so that is a step forward."
During her time in office Simmen also pushed for a revision of the laws governing the rights of foreigners in Switzerland. She has been especially concerned that foreign workers should have the right to bring their families into the country sooner rather than later.
"It's quite clear that it is much easier to integrate a five-year-old than it is an adolescent," Simmen pointed out.
Emphasis on women
Simmen also believes much more needs to be done to integrate foreign women, who she says are too often neglected.
"Integrating women is really the key," she explained. "It is very hard for foreign children if they see their mothers completely out of touch with their new surroundings. And if women are included, they can often serve as a bridge to help their husbands become integrated too."
Simmen plans to continue working towards the integration of foreign women even after she leaves her job at the Federal Commission on Foreigners. She will be succeeded by the former Social Democrat Member of Parliament Francis Matthey.
But Simmen is coy about her actual work plans after the end of this year. "I want to have a more relaxed pace of life," she admitted. "But I'll be watching what happens in politics very closely, and I won't be far away."
By Imogen Foulkes
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