6 April 2021

Naturalization: material requirements

An application for naturalization can be submitted by anyone who 

  • holds a permanent residence permit and has lived in Switzerland for at least 10 years or
  • is married to a Swiss national and has lived in Switzerland for at least 5 years. 

In order for the naturalization decision to be positive, applicants for naturalization must also

  • be successfully integrated,
  • familiar with the Swiss way of live and
  • not pose a risk to Switzerland’s internal or external security.

These requirements must be met both at the time of the application and at the time of the final naturalization decision. They are examined individually during the naturalization process. What they mean in detail is explained below – after a preliminary remark regarding the requirements for simplified naturalization. 

Preliminary remark on simplified naturalization 

In the case of simplified naturalization, the requirement of familiarity with the Swiss way of live is waived. In addition, the requirements for successful integration are lower, in accordance with the generally shorter period of residence in Switzerland. If the applicant for simplified naturalization resides abroad, the criteria of successful integration and non-risk to Switzerland’s internal or external security apply mutatis mutandis.

Successful integration

According to the Federal Supreme Court, integration is "the process of mutual rapprochement between the native and the foreign population". The legislator describes how successful integration is demonstrated by means of a number of examples, which are specified in the ordinance; they are discussed below.

Applicants are considered to be unsuccessfully integrated if they fail to comply with public security and order, e.g. by significantly or repeatedly disregarding legal regulations and official orders or by willfully failing to meet important obligations under public or private law, such as taxes, civil maintenance obligations and debt collection. In addition, the SEM checks the criminal record for certain entries that also stand in the way of successful integration (Art. 4 para. 2 BüV).

Successful integration further requires that applicants respect the values of the Federal Constitution, namely the principles of the rule of law and democracy, fundamental rights and constitutional obligations (obligation to perform military or alternative civilian service, compulsory education and taxation).

A glance at the ordinance further shows, that applicants must demonstrate oral language skills in a national language at least at reference level B1 and written language skills at least at reference level A2. The cantons may require higher reference levels or demand, e.g., that applicants speak the language spoken in the canton (the canton of ZH, for example, requires knowledge of German). These language skills must be proven by means of a language certificate. However, proof of language competence is (automatically) deemed to have been provided if, alternatively, applicants speak and write a national language as their mother tongue, have attended compulsory school in a national language for at least five years, or have completed upper secondary or tertiary education in a national language. 

It is also required that the applicant actively participates in economic life or in the acquisition of education. These two criteria are equivalent and are based on the principle that the person applying for naturalization must be able to support him- or herself and his or her family for the foreseeable future. Thus, the applicant must attain "economic self-sustainability". This means that the person seeking naturalization must be financially independent. Financial independence is considered to be given if the person applying for naturalization can cover his or her living expenses and meet his or her maintenance obligations. It is irrelevant whether the person i) has sufficient income from gainful employment, ii) receives benefits from third parties to which he or she is entitled (e.g. social security benefits, civil law maintenance contributions within the meaning of the ZGB, cantonal education allowances) or iii) has sufficient financial means (wealthy persons and pensioners are not excluded from naturalization). Participation in economic life or the acquisition of education can, e.g., be proven by means of an employment contract, an apprenticeship contract or confirmation of enrollment at a secondary school, grammar school, federal maturity or university of applied sciences.

Both in terms of language skills and participation in economic life or the acquisition of education, the personal circumstances of the applicants are taken into account (e.g. learning disability, physical or mental impairment, extensive care responsibilities). This implements the principles of proportionality of state action and non-discrimination, which are important in Switzerland.

Finally, integration can also be demonstrated by supporting family members in their integration, e.g., by helping them learn a national language.

The cantons can - within a limited framework - provide for their own, additional integration criteria. Usually, cantons require a certain degree of cantonal or communal integration and knowledge of local conditions.

Being familiar with the Swiss way of live

Naturalization requires a certain degree of local integration. Applicants are considered to be familiar with the Swiss way of live, if they have a basic knowledge of the geographical, historical, political and social conditions in Switzerland, participate in the social and cultural life of society in Switzerland and maintain contacts with Swiss citizens. The knowledge can be tested by the competent cantonal authority in a naturalization test, whereby the knowledge of an average Swiss is the benchmark. Documents to prepare for this test are usually available online or can be requested from the cantonal office. 

No risk to internal and external security

Naturalization is denied if the SEM considers Switzerland's internal or external security to be at risk. This is the case, e.g., if the applicants participate in, support, promote or recruit for terrorism, violent extremism, organized crime or prohibited intelligence services.
Do you have questions regarding the acquisition of Swiss citizenship? Our immigration team will be happy to advise and support you.

Categories: Immigration

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