Switzerland voted to ease the citizenship process for third-generation immigrants on Sunday, going against the anti-immigration sentiment that has swept Western Europe in recent years.
Over 60% of votes were in favor of the nationwide referendum, which eases, via constitutional amendment, the stringent citizenship requirements for third-generation Swiss immigrants.
Swiss law previously required immigrants to live within Switzerland for at least twelve years before having the ability to apply for citizenship, after passing a series of tests and suitability measures. The referendum doesn’t alter these existing laws; rather, the referendum speeds up the process by creating a set of uniform criteria that would apply to third-generation immigrants.
Applicants are still required to prove they are 25 years of age or older, were born in Switzerland, attended school within the country for a minimum of five years, share Swiss cultural values, speak a national language (either French, Romansh, German, or Italian) and do not depend on state aid.
These restrictions are still fairly tight, which wasn’t apparent in the public debate. The contentious debate centered around a poster of a woman in a niqab with the caption “uncontrolled citizenship,” when, in fact, the referendum still leaves a lot of strict requirements in place for citizenship to be attained, which still restrict and/or prevent freedom of movement.
Research by Geneva University, done specifically for the government, suggests that around 25,000 people will benefit from these adjustments.
Prior to the vote, the right-wing People’s Party came out in impassioned opposition of this bill.
“In one or two generations, who will these third-generation foreigners be?” cautioned Jean-Luc Addor, a lawmaker for the party. “They will be born of the Arab Spring, they will be from sub-Saharan Africa, the Horn of Africa, Syria or Afghanistan.”
“We don’t see any reason whatsoever to make [immigration] easier,” said Luzi Stamm, a legislator also from the People’s Party. “The movement of people in the world has increased considerably…You have an increased probability of problem-makers coming here.”
The only fast-track route to citizenship that has existed in Switzerland applies to foreigners who had been married to Swiss citizens for more than six years, including those who have never lived in the country.
Photo Credit: Komitee Gegen Erleichterte Einbuergerung (Committee Against Facilitated Naturalization)
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