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Parliament smoothes path to citizenship

More immigrants will be able to apply for citizenship under the new proposals swissinfo.ch

Parliament has approved proposals to make it easier for foreigners to be granted Swiss citizenship.

This content was published on September 24, 2003 - 12:56

However, it has scrapped controversial plans to include the right of appeal in the revised citizenship law.

On Tuesday the House of Representatives voted to remove this stumbling block - also contested by the Senate - to wide-reaching constitutional reforms on naturalisation.

The reforms will now go to a nationwide vote.

“The right of appeal was one of the most controversial points,” Roland Scherer of the Federal Immigration, Integration and Emigration Office, told swissinfo.

However, foreigners can already contest the outcome of secret ballots in those communes where citizens vote on individual citizenship applications.

This was established by a Federal Court decision in July when judges upheld an appeal by five applicants whose requests for citizenship were rejected in a popular vote in the commune of Emmen, near Lucerne.

“The Federal Court’s ruling [means that the right of appeal] no longer needs to be enshrined in a citizenship law, because it can now be evoked on the basis of jurisprudence,” explained Scherer.

Scherer said that prior to the court's decision it had not been possible to appeal against democratic decisions.

Right of appeal

Both houses have also backed proposals to grant automatic citizenship to third-generation immigrants, if certain conditions are fulfilled. Naturalisation will be eased for second-generation immigrants.

Around 440,000 foreigners living in Switzerland are second- or third-generation immigrants. They constitute six per cent of the population and a quarter of all registered foreigners.

In July the country’s highest court also banned secret ballots on citizenship – held in several Swiss communities – on the grounds that they could violate Swiss anti-discrimination laws.

The ruling came after voters in Emmen rejected citizenship applications from 97 people, most of them from the former Yugoslavia, in secret ballots over the past three years.

A number of Swiss cantons are expected to amend their cantonal laws following July’s ruling.

Reforms

The tortuous naturalisation procedure has made it hard for foreigners - even those born in Switzerland - to be granted Swiss citizenship.

It takes up to 12 years’ residency before a foreigner can apply, as well as large sums of money.

Under the new proposals, however, foreigners will only have to live in Switzerland for eight years before applying for citizenship.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives also agreed to grant children automatic citizenship if they are born in Switzerland and one of their parents has attended a Swiss school for five years and has held a valid resident’s permit for at least five years.

Up to 10,000 children could get citizenship this way.

Scherer believes the Swiss will approve the proposals to ease restrictions on naturalisation for second-generation immigrants, but is less confident about the case for automatic citizenship for third-generation immigrants.

“The acquisition of citizenship at birth, even if it is restricted to the third generation… is totally in opposition to the traditional way of acquiring Swiss citizenship, so I think it’ll be pretty hard to get it through.”

swissinfo, Vanessa Mock

Key facts

Swiss voters may vote on the proposed changes to immigration laws as early as autumn 2004.
The constitutional changes will come into force in 2006, at the earliest.
There are around 400,000 second- or third-generation immigrants living in Switzerland, making up about 6% of the population.

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