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Was your grandma Swiss? Six months left to claim Swiss citizenship

From January 1, 2018, it will no longer be enough to have a Swiss grandmother or great-grandmother to qualify for a Swiss passport. The country’s new citizenship law has more stringent criteria for applicants living abroad.

Some 19,000 foreign nationals living abroad have obtained Swiss citizenship over the past ten years, most of them spouses of Swiss nationals who applied for so-called facilitated naturalisation after being married for at least six years.

However, the law also allows people to “reacquire” their citizenship, e.g. if they had been forced to relinquish it in the days before dual nationality was an option. Of the 43,000 newly minted Swiss citizens, 1,847 people resident abroad benefited from this category of naturalisation.

Swiss law is based on the principle of “jussanguinis” and states that anyone with a Swiss parent automatically acquires Swiss citizenship, even if they are born abroad. However, until July 1, 1985, it was not possible for mothers to pass their Swiss nationality on to their daughters, who were automatically given the same nationality as their father.

The law was then amended to allow those born before 1985 to a Swiss mother to claim Swiss nationality. The right also extends to grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but only until 31 December 2017, with the new law now only allowing the first generation to acquire citizenship in this way. Hence, anyone with a Swiss grandmother or great-grandmother thus has only six months to claim their citizenship, although certain conditions apply.

Ten years to be reintegrated

Children and young people born abroad are currently required to register with the competent authorities before their 22nd birthday if they want to keep their Swiss citizenship. The new law raises this age limit to 25.

However, anyone over 25 will face more stringent criteria under the new law. Although applicants will still be able to request “reintegration” within a span of ten years, they will have to move back to Switzerland to regain their Swiss passport after this point.

It is important to note that this new ruling affects all those applying for reintegration, i.e. anyone who has had to surrender their Swiss passport due to marriage, forfeiture or release of citizenship. Anybody applying before December 31, 2017, however, will only need to prove close ties to Switzerland even if they have not had Swiss citizenship for more than ten years.

Close ties to Switzerland

Another significant change brought about by the new law is the requirement for those living abroad to have a strong connection to Switzerland, or in other words, to be “integrated” there. Although the precondition is not new per se, the Swiss parliament wanted to define it more clearly by tightening up the criteria.

Applicants will have to speak enough of one of the national languages to make themselves understood, have a basic knowledge of the country and be in regular contact with Swiss nationals. They will also need to have spent five days in Switzerland on at least three occasions in the six years prior to their application instead of the ten years required currently.

This latter requirement will put some applicants at a disadvantage compared to others, given that someone living in Italy or France will undoubtedly find a trip to Switzerland an easier proposition than a resident of Chile or Argentina. The law thus provides for this uneven playing field to be taken into account when an application for naturalisation is being considered.

Applying for a passport

Anyone living abroad and looking to apply for a Swiss passport should contact their nearest embassy or consulate.

Applications submitted by December 31, 2017 will be handled in accordance with the current citizenship law.

The website of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroadexternal link has a special section on the procedures to follow and conditions to meet in order to obtain Swiss citizenship, including information on the applicable law.