The number of foreigners being granted Swiss citizenship is likely to fall by nine per cent a year if government-backed amendments to the naturalisation law are accepted, according to a study presented by the federal commission for migration on Tuesday.
The study, carried out by experts at Geneva University, found that two of the proposed changes would have opposite effects.
On the one hand, cutting from 12 years to eight the time would-be citizens have to wait before being eligible to apply for a Swiss passport would increase the annual number of applications by about 1,500.
But on the other, limiting naturalisation to holders of a C-permit would reduce the figure by about 5,000. C-permit holders are foreigners with the right to permanent residence; such a permit is granted after a person has lived in Switzerland for five or ten years (depending on nationality) with an annually renewable B-permit.
The difference between the two figures means that the number of naturalisations would drop by 3,500, just over nine per cent of the total figure.
The commission, whose task is to advise parliament on immigration issues, said it was concerned about the restriction. It said that for the sake of equality, the length of residence should count for more than the residence status.
The proposed amendments to the law are to be debated in parliament in December at the earliest.
The commission called for a change in the way in which the naturalisations are decided. The three tier system in which applications have to be accepted at federal, cantonal and commune level should be scrapped, and replaced with a single tier, it believes.
It also said that children born in Switzerland to foreign parents should receive citizenship automatically.
However, realising that these changes will not be introduced overnight, it called in the meantime for more transparency and said applicants for citizenship should have better access to information about the procedure and the criteria used. The same documents should be required wherever the application was made
Last year about 38,000 foreigners were granted Swiss citizenship, a drop of six per cent against 2010, according to the Federal Migration Office.
The number of naturalisations has been falling since 2007. The study found that 42 per cent of new citizens were under 20, that 43 per cent were born in Switzerland, and 52 per cent were women. Many of them had been to school in Switzerland and had a high level of education. The overwhelming majority came from European countries, with Serbia-Montenegro the biggest source.
People are more likely to be granted citizenship in cities than in villages, the study found. One of its authors, Philippe Wanner, said foreigners were also more likely to apply if they lived in an urban area, which is more anonymous, than if they lived in a village where everyone knows everything and people are worried about being stigmatised if they are turned down.
Foreign residents must currently wait at least 12 years before being eligible to apply for citizenship.
Foreigners married to Swiss nationals can take advantage of a simplified or "facilitated" procedure, reducing the number of years they have to wait .
Successful applicants must show that they are integrated into Swiss society, comply with Swiss law and pose no threat to internal or external security.
The cantonal and local authorities are responsible for naturalisation procedures.end of infobox
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