Swiss government rejects automatic citizenship for those born in Switzerland

Of note:

On 15 June 2022, a proposal put forward by Stefania Prezioso Batou, a federal parliamentarian from Geneva, to grant automatic citizenship to those born in Switzerland was rejected by 112 to 75 votes in Switzerland’s federal parliament, reported 20 Minutes.

Batou would like to see the introduction of jus soliwhere a child born in Switzerland to foreign parents and schooled in Switzerland would automatically qualify for Swiss citizenship at the age of 18.

Those against the idea argued that being born and raised in Switzerland did not guarantee integration. In addition, automating the process at a federal level would run counter to cantonal independence on the naturalisation process.

A similar proposal was rejected in December 2021 by the Council of States, Switzerland’s upper house.

Unrestricted jus soli, or birthright citizenship, is rare beyond North and South America, where it remains the norm. Beyond these regions, only Chad, Lesotho, Tanzania, Tuvalu and Pakistan have it, while another 30 odd nations have restricted forms of it.

Gaining Swiss citizenship is slow and difficult. It requires a minimum of 10 years residence in Switzerland on the right kind of permit and a long list of other requirements. Applications for Swiss nationality must be approved by the federal administration, cantons and the municipality where the applicant resides. In the end, many who call Switzerland home never get around to becoming Swiss, sometimes after several generations.

Source: Swiss government rejects automatic citizenship for those born in Switzerland

Switzerland Wants to Make It Easier for Third Generation Immigrants to Gain Swiss Citizenship –

Still one of the harder citizenships to acquire:

The Swiss Federal Migration Commission wants to make it easier for third-generation immigrants to obtain Swiss citizenship by removing several bureaucratic procedures and requirements.

Though in a referendum held on February 12, 2017, the voters had supported changes to the constitution in order to make it easier for people born in Switzerland, whose grandparents had immigrated to the country to obtain citizenship, a recent study of the Federal Commission on Migration shows that there is still a low rate of applicants who meet this condition that are gaining citizenship.

In a press release issued last week, the Federal Commission has revealed that out of the approximately 25,000 applications for citizenship submitted by this category since February 15, 2018, only 1,847 had been granted Swiss citizenship until the end of 2020.

The Commission believes that there are too many unnecessary requirements hindering the process for these people.

The will of the people and the estates must be implemented. These people have long been part of Switzerland – Switzerland needs them!” the President of the EKM, Walter Leimgruber, says.

Amongst the main requirements that the Commission wants to abolish is the age limit. The current rules on applying for Swiss citizenship as a third-generation immigrant state that the application must be submitted before the 25th birthday.

Since many people only want to naturalize a little later, after completing their training or when starting a family, this age limit is not justified. The legal age limit does not correspond to the reality of the life of those affected. It should therefore be abolished,” the Commission claims.

It also states the requirement of proof of belonging to the third generation of foreigners is too complicated, as amongst others it includes:

  • proof that the grandparents were entitled to reside in Switzerland
  • proof that the father or mother attended compulsory school for at least five years,
  • evidence one parent lived in Switzerland for ten years and has a permanent residence permit

And finally, the Commission wants to make it easier for people wishing to become Swiss citizens as third-generation immigrants to access information and advice on the procedures.

Due to the complicated regulations, it is often a challenge for local authorities to provide competent advice to those wishing to naturalize. In order to facilitate the naturalization of third-generation people, local authorities need to be empowered to give them appropriate advice,” the Commission states.

Data by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office show that 0.2 per cent of the Swiss population are foreign nationals from the third or a higher generation. Another about five per cent are second-generation immigrants, of whom 3.6 are naturalized and another 2.4 of foreign citizenship.

The Swiss are one of the world populations that are most satisfied with the quality of life in their home country. According to the 2020 Income and Living Conditions Survey (SILC) of the Swiss Statistical Office, 40.4 per cent of the population aged 16 and over noted that they were very satisfied with their current life. Whereas in 2014, 39 per cent of the population aged 16 and over believed the same.

Source: Switzerland Wants to Make It Easier for Third Generation Immigrants to Gain Swiss Citizenship –

Switzerland – Voting rights: ‘The foreign community is too big to be ignored’

One of the most restrictive approaches:

One in three Swiss residents is not allowed to take part in national elections and votes. In most cases that’s because they don’t have Swiss citizenship. How does it feel to live in the country that holds the most referendums in the world without being able to vote?

 “I’ve lived in several countries, but my experience in Switzerland is the first time I’ve been directly confronted with a situation where other inhabitants make decisions about my life and my welfare,” says Estefania Cuero, who has an Ecuadorian and a German passport and has lived in Switzerland for four years. “This is very new to me – and sometimes, very unpleasant.”Cuero, a diversity consultant and doctoral candidate at the University of Lucerne, says specific issues are behind that feeling. “The vote on the burqa ban [passed in March by 51.2% of voters] really affected me. I felt unwelcome – even though I don’t wear a niqab and I’m not Muslim. But for me the message behind it was: ‘We don’t want to see anyone here who looks foreign’.

The purpose of direct democracy is to involve the population in political decision-making. But regular referendums and people’s initiatives repeatedly reveal who does not belong to the electorate.

Of Switzerland’s resident population of about 8.7 million, around 35% are not allowed to vote at a national level.

“You often hear ‘Switzerland has voted’ or ‘Switzerland has decided’,” Cuero says. “But if 35% aren’t allowed to vote, then a statement like that is problematic, maybe even wrong. It’s not Switzerland but very specific individuals or a group that can decide for others and therefore exercises power over other groups that belong to Switzerland.”

The biggest group of people excluded from decisions on national issues is foreigners. Switzerland takes the same approach as almost all other countries on this. Only four countries in the world allow non-citizens to vote at a national level: Chile, Uruguay, New Zealand and Malawi. But in Switzerland the question of participation for foreign residents is more pressing than in other countries because the proportion of foreigners is high: roughly a quarter of permanent residents are not Swiss.

This can lead to strange situations. At the 2019 federal elections the municipality of Spreitenbach in northern Switzerland was home to as many adult foreigners as people with voting rights. The electorate accounted for only 39% of the population. What’s more, the turnout in Spreitenbach was very low, so only 10% of all residents took part in the elections.

For a very long time another huge segment of society was excluded from democratic representation: women. “The share of foreign residents has reached dimensions that can no longer be ignored,” says Sanija Ameti, co-president of the pro-European Operation Libero movement.

Ameti was three when her parents fled from Bosnia to Switzerland. When she was young, a number of people’s initiatives, usually launched by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, concerned migration policy and often stirred up sentiment against the Balkan diaspora.

“My parents and I had no voice in these votes even though we were directly affected by them. It was extremely frustrating, because we had no choice but to put up with the xenophobic and anti-Muslim politics,” Ameti says, adding that this was one of the reasons she entered politics.

“The mass immigration initiative politicised me,” says Hendrik Jansen, who was born, raised and educated in Switzerland. Today he works in public administration and can’t voice his opinion in public, so we have changed his name.

In 2014 Swiss voters narrowly approved a proposal to curb immigration, imposing limits on the number of foreigners allowed into the country.

Jansen emphasises that as a Dutchman he has an easier time than other migrants. “People rarely have issues with northern Europeans,” he says. “When I say where I come from, the response is often: ‘You’re one of the good ones!’ But the law doesn’t care about that: a tighter law on deportation, for example, affects everyone without a passport equally.

Voting rights as a means of integration?

Jansen, who is active in clubs and does voluntary work, could vote if he adopted Swiss citizenship. So why doesn’t he? “On the municipal level, at the very least, citizenship shouldn’t be a prerequisite,” he says. “If I’m engaged in society, I should be able to vote.”

He thus addresses one of the key arguments put forward by advocates for foreigners’ voting rights: residents without a Swiss passport take part in community life and pay taxes in Switzerland – why shouldn’t they be able to vote on what happens with that money?

They are directly affected by Swiss laws, so why should one section of the population be denied a say in rules it must obey? At the same time, Switzerland guarantees the right to vote to one group of people who neither pay taxes in Switzerland nor are directly affected by most of the laws: Swiss expatriates.

Even if Jansen wanted to become Swiss, it would take a while. He recently moved – only a few kilometres away, but into a new municipality. That means any application for citizenship would have to wait several years.

Ameti, on the other hand, did gain Swiss citizenship and is an active politician in the Liberal Green Party. “I was lucky to be able to apply for citizenship in the city of Zurich,” she says. “The citizenship process is not as fair everywhere – in some municipalities people are subjected to real harassment.”

Ameti thinks the idea of integration via political participation should be revived. The example of Jens Weber shows that this can work.

Weber lives in the northeastern municipality of Trogen, one of the few villages in German-speaking Switzerland that recognises foreigners’ right to vote (see box). As an American, he was elected to the local council in 2006. “It was one of the best days of my life, when I went to Trogen in 2006 and could say ‘right, now I can join in!’” he said in an SWI panel discussion. “This experience had a major impact on me and convinced me that I wanted to become a Swiss citizen,” he says.

Diversity taken for granted

However, a possible reform of the voting or naturalisation laws is not the only decisive factor in the fair treatment of the many Swiss residents without citizenship.

“What’s needed is an honest discussion about what and who Switzerland is,” Cuero says. “We need Switzerland’s self-image to mirror the diversity of this society.”

“Anyone who insists there is a single defining Swiss culture should explain the Rösti ditch to me,” says Jansen, referring to the linguistic divide between the French- and German-speaking parts of the country. “The Swiss are not all the same. There are differences between them that are not necessarily smaller than the differences between a Swiss person and a foreigner.”

Source: Voting rights: ‘The foreign community is too big to be ignored’

Switzerland’s Mid-Pandemic Burqa Ban Doesn’t Protect Liberal Values or Security. It Marginalizes Muslim Women.

Of note:

Switzerland, hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, has been in a partial shutdown since January. Face masks are mandatory everywhere from public transportation to the country’s idyllic ski slopes. But that reality didn’t stop a slim majority of Swiss voters from approving a ban on full-face coverings in public spaces in a March 7 referendum.

The new ban wasn’t motivated by anti-mask sentiment. In fact, it won’t apply to facial coverings worn for health reasons—now or after the pandemic. Rather, the measure was aimed at a minuscule minority of Muslim women who wear the burqa or niqab. And while similar initiatives in France, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Austria have always been controversial, the deeply ironic timing of Switzerland’s burqa ban proves once and for all that efforts to ban face coverings were never really about supposed security concerns surrounding face concealment in public spaces. At their core, burqa bans have always been an attempt to marginalize Muslim women—and they have succeeded in bringing anti-Muslim sentiment into the mainstream.

Switzerland’s referendum was the product of a people’s initiative launched by the Egerkinger Komitee, an advocacy group that includes members of the right-wing, national conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and aimsto organize against “the claims to power of political Islam in Switzerland.” Arguing that “free people show their face” and “the burqa and niqab are not normal clothes,” the group in 2017 collected the required 100,000 petition signatures to put the issue to a referendum. On March 7, 51.2 percent of Swiss voters approved it.

The deeply ironic timing of Switzerland’s burqa ban proves it was never about supposed security concerns.

Clamping down on the visibility of Muslims in Switzerland is nothing new. Swiss Muslims have been under scrutiny since 2004, when Switzerland held a pair of referendums on measures that would have eased access to citizenship for second- and third-generation immigrants. The SVP’s strong mobilization against the initiatives transformed them instead into cultural referendums on whether Muslims are part of the Swiss national community, a notion the majority of Swiss voters rejected. Then, in 2009, the Egerkinger Komitee proposed an initiative that sought to ban minarets on the grounds that they are a symbol of political Islam. It was approved by 57.5 percent of Swiss voters despite the opposition of domestic Muslim organizations and church leaders from other religious groups.

In December 2014, the SVP first sought to prohibit full-face coverings via a parliamentary initiative to amend the Federal Constitution, arguing that burqas are a threat to national security. But the Swiss Council of States rejected it in March 2017 on the grounds that the small number of burqa-clad women in Switzerland meant public order was not disturbed. There was also concern that a ban would have a negative impact on tourism from Gulf countries.

Though the SVP and Egerkinger Komitee have been active for decades, Switzerland’s burqa referendum can’t be explained without the broader regional context: namely, Europe’s crisis of identity in a globalized, multicultural world. Switzerland is only the latest country to express and assuage this cultural insecurity by managing the visibility of Muslims and Islam, which are perceived as a political, ideological, and national security threat to European values and civilization.

Muslims have been part of Europe’s fabric for centuries, but they continue to be misunderstood and misrepresented in media and politics, where Islam is often framed as an inherently violent religion and Muslims are portrayed as incapable of integrating into European societies. While there is certainly some cultural anxiety—the natural result of rapidly changing demographics on the continent—most of the sensationalism is constructed, encouraged, and egged on by political parties that have a vested interest in creating a supposed “Muslim problem.” The purveyors of these ideas seek to convince the broad populace that Islam is a religion inherently at odds with Western values and that Muslims must be tamed and domesticated. Right now, they are winning.

In Switzerland, demonizing Islam, Muslims, and immigrants as hostile to human rights and freedom—of expression, religion, and sexual orientation—has long been a pillar of the SVP’s electoral strategy, as well as that of other populist national conservative parties such as the Federal Democratic Union of Switzerland and the Ticino League. Because this fixation has contributed to countless electoral victories for the SVP—transforming it into one of the most powerful parties in the country—others have adopted its strategy.

Secretive Switzerland-China immigration deal fuels concern

Legitimate worries. Hopefully no equivalent with Canadian government:

Switzerland gave Chinese security agents free run inside its borders and the rest of Europe for five years as part of a secretive immigration agreement between the two countries, according to human rights watchdog Safeguard Defenders.

While the agreement officially expired this week, Safeguard Defenders warned that it was up for renewal in a report released on Thursday.

The deal allows Chinese officials to visit Switzerland for up to two weeks to interview and remove nationals who have been found to be residing illegally in the European country and take them back to China.

While Switzerland maintains similar agreements with immigration authorities from 52 other countries and territories, including Hong Kong and Macau, its deal with China is unique in that it grants powers to China’s Ministry of Public Security as opposed to immigration officials, according to Safeguard Defenders.

These officials are allowed access to investigate “irregular immigration” as opposed to “illegal immigration” as detailed in agreements with the countries, the organisation said.

“In China, the Ministry of Public Security is the paramount structure of power second only to the Communist Party itself, and it is through the MPS that the Party wields its authority over perceived threats,” said Michael Caster, senior adviser at Safeguard Defenders.

“The real question is why would Switzerland agree to any bilateral partnership with a state agency known for widespread and systematic human rights abuses, including torture, especially when that partnership is about the surveillance, custody, and repatriation of individuals at risk of abuse,” he said.

The deal was signed in 2015 but was not made public, so even Swiss parliamentarians on the country’s Foreign Affairs Committee were unaware of it, according to Swiss news outlet ZZ am Sonntag, which first broke the story in August.

MPs were reportedly not notified because the agreement was considered an “administrative” matter, the newspaper said.

The text of the document is also not available online. The Swiss State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) offers a link to the agreement on its government website, but clicking on the link reveals that no document has been uploaded.

The SEM acknowledged the existence of the agreement to Al Jazeera in a response to written questions, and said it was neither unlisted nor confidential. “The full text has always been transmitted upon request,” spokesman Lukas Rieder said.

Rieder said Swiss migration authorities decide, together with the cantons, which people will be presented to any visiting delegation, and then organise the mission.

The duration of the stay depends on the number of interviews, which take place at the offices of the SEM, and the visiting delegation has no influence over the amount of time they spend in Switzerland, it said.

“Chinese authorities do not receive any information on persons at risk or persecuted,” Rieder said, stressing that the only information provided was for identification purposes. “No sensitive data or information is provided which could endanger the persons concerned” or their relatives.

He added that while a continuation of the agreement was “in Switzerland’s interest” there was “no urgency” for the renewal.

Operation Fox Hunt

ZZ am Sonntag earlier reported that while the arrangement had not been used to deport Uighurs or Tibetans, others might have fallen victim to it.

On the one known occasion that the agreement was activated in 2016, Chinese agents visited Switzerland to remove 13 people, among them four asylum seekers, the newspaper said.

Caster said the agreement could also have been used to conduct influence campaigns in Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe, as the Schengen system allows the security agents unrestricted access across much of the continent.

While Safeguard Defenders said it did not find specific evidence in this case, China had been known to perform similar operations outside its borders, including forcefully repatriating and harassing its own citizens.

Known as Operation Fox Hunt or Operation Sky Net, the campaign has intensified under Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has led an anti-corruption drive across China since he took office in 2012.

Chinese state news agency Xinhua said the operation has brought nearly 6,000 people back to China since 2014, including 1,425 members of the Communist Party.

Some of the most prominent cases include Xiao Jianhua, a Chinese-Canadian billionaire abducted from his Hong Kong hotel room in 2017, and Gui Minhai, a Chinese-Swedish bookseller who was taken from Thailand in 2015. Former Interpol chief Meng Hongwei was picked up when he made a trip back to China from France in 2018.

Security agents have also harassed Chinese citizens and dissidents living abroad. In October, the US Justice Department indicted eight Chinese nationals with charges including stalking and coercion of Chinese abroad to encourage them to return to China.

“We have clearly seen the lengths Chinese security officials have gone to abduct Chinese citizens from other sovereign nations or wage sophisticated surveillance or influence campaigns and where there is a loophole we can be certain that agents of the Chinese state will have sought ways to exploit it,” Caster said.

“As long as secret agreements, like this one with the Swiss Government, allow unfettered access to Chinese security agents, we can never rule out a greater extent of abuse.”

Source: Secretive Switzerland-China immigration deal fuels concern

Swiss researchers gear up for crunch immigration vote, fearing return to scientific exile

Of note:

Swiss voters go to the polls in a month to decide whether to cap free movement of citizens from the EU, in a referendum seen as a crunch test of the country’s ties with the 27-member bloc.

The vote, were it to succeed, would violate bilateral accords that enhance Swiss access to the EU’s single market, and directly threaten researchers access to the next science programme, Horizon Europe.

“I’m a bit worried about the vote,” said Gian-Luca Bona, CEO of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology. “This is extremely important for our economy. The special circumstances of COVID-19 mean there are many irrational things happening. There are a lot of emotions around at the moment.”

Bona leads a lab of 1,000 scientists, made up of 60 different nationalities. He fears a repeat of 2014, when a slim majority of Swiss voters backed a similar motion that sought to restore limits on immigration. The EU responded by cutting off full Swiss membership to Horizon 2020, the current research programme. What followed was an almost three-year scramble for Switzerland to regain full access.

Now, in what is essentially a repeat of the 2014 vote, Bona fears the country could be thrust back into scientific exile.

“Infections are growing slowly but steadily,” he said. “The real impact on the economy from COVID-19 could start to show this fall; a second wave could aggravate things. We could see chapter 11-style closures of businesses.”

“The discussion that could follow, around prioritising the Swiss citizens, is the dangerous part in this referendum. I hope rational thinking determines what we do next.”

While not unusual for Switzerland, where plebiscites on specific questions are common, for Brussels, the vote raises the prospect of yet another embarrassing national referendum on the EU.

The threat of being blocked from the full €94.1 billion Horizon programme, which starts next year, is a source of major disquiet for Swiss academics.

After the 2014 experience, they’re fully alive to the danger. On Thursday, a collection of top scientific organisations, including the ETH Board, the Swiss National Science Foundation and Innosuisse, the Swiss Innovation Agency, jointly called for voters to reject the proposal.

“It’s rather open for me, what’s going to happen in this vote,” said Tilman Esslinger, who leads the quantum optics group at ETH Zurich.

“There’s a very special set of circumstances – coronavirus, severe economic challenges. This can amplify in one or the other direction. The world has changed. People probably don’t even know themselves yet how they’ll vote. People have other things on their mind now, like how they will get their kids back into schools safely. They might not be thinking of politics,” Esslinger said.

Political analysts, however, say the initiative faces many obstacles.

“Plenty of things are now running against it. Because of coronavirus, it doesn’t have the monopoly of attention or debate,” says Oscar Mazzoleni, political scientist at the University of Lausanne.

The Swiss will be voting on five separate subjects on September 27, including the purchase of new military airplanes, the length of paternity leave and the right to hunt wolves and other animals.

Support for the Swiss People’s Party, which put the immigration vote on the agenda, is lower than it was six years’ ago, Mazzoleni noted.

The build-up to the vote is short, too, in comparison to the months-long campaigning seen in 2014.

The reaction to the government’s handling of coronavirus is generally positive, meaning the public may not view the upcoming vote as a weapon to punish politicians.

“They delivered the money; they supported the economy during the pandemic. And it’s too early to see the impact of the virus on the economy anyway. The real crisis is still in the future,” Mazzoleni said.

Politicians fear success for the immigration vote would wreck their hopes of putting relations with Brussels on a new footing.

Like the UK, Switzerland is in its own difficult negotiation with the EU, being asked to endorse a new treaty that would require it to routinely adopt single market rules.

The EU views this as merely updating and simplifying the Swiss arrangement, which spans a complex web of more than 120 bilateral deals. But the new treaty also includes demands that the Swiss soften rules protecting wages, the highest in Europe, from cross-border competition by EU workers on temporary assignments. Critics say the treaty infringes Swiss sovereignty.

The country’s relationship with the EU is the “hidden dimension” of the immigration vote, Mazzoleni said

“We’re in a no-man’s land, from a diplomatic point of view, with the EU right now. Brussels is much more focused on the UK. So the future relationship is not part of the referendum debate at the moment,” he said.

More support for immigration

For Nenad Stojanović, professor of political science at the University of Geneva, “The chances are quite high that the initiative will not be accepted. Many people outside Switzerland, who don’t fully understand our tradition of direct democracy, simply presume that people would accept something like this. In the Swiss context, this claim is not supported by the facts,” he said.

There have been seven similar popular initiatives to curb immigration since 1970, said Stojanović. “With one exception, the 2014 vote, the others failed. And this was during all kinds of periods, good economies and bad,” he said.

If anything, Stojanović expects the experience of coronavirus will have strengthened peoples’ perception of foreigners, who account for almost a quarter of the Swiss population.

“The pandemic has shown that without foreign workers, the whole health system would have collapsed,” he said.

Source: Swiss researchers gear up for crunch immigration vote, fearing return to scientific exile

Price watchdog criticises cost of becoming Swiss – SWI

Some of the highest fees in Europe:

Naturalisation fees vary among Switzerland’s 26 cantons. This has caught the eye of the federal price watchdog, who doubts that the fees fall within the legal framework.

The law on Swiss citizenshipexternal link stipulates that “the fees may not amount to more than is required to cover costs”. But for price watchdog Stefan Meierhans this is “more than questionable”, as he writes in his newsletterexternal link on Thursday.

He says one reason for his doubts are the great differences between cantons. These are “far too large and are not comprehensible against the background of the cost recovery principle”. The result is a “great inequality in treatment of people seeking naturalisation”.

What is a justified price for naturalisation? Meierhans considers a cantonal and municipal fee of a maximum of CHF1,500 ($1,540) per adult to be fair. He adds that it should be possible to increase the fee moderately for an “extraordinarily high amount of work”.

Most cantons charge around this figure, but a survey by the price watchdog shows there’s a wide range, with the process costing from CHF200 to CHF2,200. In 19 cantons the average is not more than CHF1,000. In several cantons, however, naturalisation can be considerably more expensive, with fees of up to CHF4,000 being possible.

Source: Price watchdog criticises cost of becoming Swiss – SWI

Switzerland: Immigrants who naturalize outearn their peers

Interesting study from Switzerland that likely reflects in part the particularities of the Swiss immigrant population and the citizenship acquisition process. Makes the case for more facilitative approaches to granting citizenship:

The moment when an immigrant becomes a citizen of his adopted country looks remarkably similar in ceremonies around the world: a hand raised, an oath taken, a flag waved, and a celebration with family and friends. But the road leading to that moment differs widely by country. Some are long and steep and others more walkable, depending on the country’s policies.

Behind this divergence is a kind of chicken-and-egg problem. Is citizenship a prize, something to be won only after considerable striving? Then it should be surrounded by hurdles, like requirements that you’ve mastered the language, lived in the country a long time, and achieved a certain level of economic success. Or is citizenship an invitation to build a future in the country, something that helps immigrants succeed? Then it should be easier to get.

Which side has the better of the argument? A new study from the Immigration Policy Lab at ETH Zurich and Stanford University (IPL) sheds light on the importance of citizenship in immigrants’ trajectories. Looking at more than thirty years of data on thousands of immigrants in Switzerland, IPL researchers found that those who had naturalized earned more money each year than those who hadn’t—and the boost in income was largest for people facing the greatest disadvantages in the labor market.

A Puzzle for Researchers

Considering the benefits usually reserved for citizens, it’s easy to imagine how naturalizing early on could equip immigrants to prosper: access to advantageous jobs, eligibility for scholarships to get education and training, and the assurance that they can stay in the country indefinitely and invest in the future.

But it’s hard to prove that citizenship actually delivers on this promise, because those who get citizenship and those who don’t aren’t similar enough to allow for meaningful comparison. People who jump the hurdles to apply for citizenship differ in many ways from those who hold back, and successful applicants differ from unsuccessful ones. If naturalized immigrants do better in the long run, this could be due to any number of factors—factors that, like work ethic or resources, also account for their ability to successfully navigate the citizenship application process.

“To accurately assess the benefits of citizenship it is essential to compare naturalized and non-naturalized immigrants that are similar in all characteristics but for their passport”, said Dalston Ward, a postdoctoral researcher at ETH Zurich.

This is where Switzerland is a boon to social scientists. Between 1970 and 2003, some Swiss towns put citizenship applications to a . To become a Swiss citizen, an immigrant would have to receive more “yes” than “no” votes. For applicants who won or lost by only a handful of votes, the decision may as well have been pure chance, enabling an apples-to apples comparison. Combine that with decades of records from the Swiss pension system showing annual earnings, and you have a trustworthy way to determine whether or not citizenship actually improves immigrants’ fortunes.

Long-Term Benefits

After identifying those who narrowly won or lost their bid for citizenship, the researchers looked back at the five years leading up to the vote that would divide them. There, they had similar incomes. But after the vote, the new citizens went on to earn more money than those who remained in permanent residency status, and the earnings gap increased as time went on. At first, they earned an average of about 3,000 Swiss francs more (roughly the same in U.S. dollars), and that increased to almost 8,000 a decade later. In any given year after the vote awarded them citizenship, these immigrants earned an average of 5,637 more than their peers.

“In sum, these findings provide causal evidence that citizenship is an important catalyst for economic integration, which benefits both immigrants and host communities”, said Jens Hainmueller, a professor of political science at Stanford University.

If citizenship was the wedge between the two groups, how exactly did it lift one above the other? The most likely explanation, the researchers thought, was that it counteracted the discrimination that colors immigrants’ lives in the job market. When immigrants apply for jobs in Switzerland, their citizenship status is almost as visible as hair color or height, and individual employers can use it to filter candidates. Immigrants who haven’t become citizens may be seen as less skilled or less likely to remain in the country. On the other hand, because it is relatively difficult to gain citizenship in Switzerland, it may act as a kind of credential.

A closer look at the data bears this out. Citizenship made the greatest difference for immigrants facing obstacles—those likely to be discriminated against for their religion or country of origin, or those in low-wage occupations. When the researchers focused on immigrants from Turkey and the former Yugoslavia, who were often refugees and potentially targets of anti-Muslim sentiment, they found an average yearly earnings gain of 10,721—roughly double that of the new citizens as a whole.

According to Dominik Hangartner, a professor of public policy at ETH Zurich, “the finding that the benefits are disproportionally larger for poorer and more marginalized immigrants speaks to the important role that citizenship policies can play in facilitating more equal access to employment opportunities for immigrants.”

While income is only one element of an immigrant’s life, the persistence of the earnings gap revealed in this study raises an important question about the public purpose of citizenship. We tend to think of citizenship as a private issue, personally meaningful to the but not necessarily something society or state should invest in.

But if citizenship can counter discrimination, boost social mobility, and act as a stepping stone toward deeper integration, then its benefits reach beyond immigrants themselves. That means that we all have a stake in the debate over whether to obstruct or ease access to . At a time when cities, states, and countries around the world are reconsidering their welcome to immigrants, it’s all the more important to have solid evidence about the contributions newcomers can make—and the policies that best encourage them.

Source: Immigrants who naturalize outearn their peers

What should be done with foreigners who joined Islamic State?

Swiss perspectives:

Switzerland is one the many countries facing difficult choices in dealing with their citizens linked to the Islamic State. These are some of the options on the table, and the challenges involved.

US-backed Kurdish-led forces are currently holding tens of thousands of people linked to Islamic State in northern Syria after capturing the last IS stronghold in March. Rights groups are concerned about due process and prison conditions for IS detainees both in Syria and in neighbouring Iraq.

The detainees are mostly Syrians and Iraqis but also include some 2,000 foreigners from more than 70 countries, as well as women and children being held in a separate camp that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet described as “deeply sub-standard”. There are currently a dozen adults with links to Switzerland in northern Syria, and the United Nations this week called for fair trials for Islamic State captives and for countries to take responsibility for their nationals.

“Accountability, with fair trials, protects societies from future radicalisation and violence,” Bachelet saidexternal link on Monday. “Betrayals of justice, following flawed trials – which may include unlawful and inhumane detention, and capital punishment – can only serve the narrative of grievance and revenge.”

In northeast Syria, Swiss public television (RTS) interviewed a Swiss jihadist who has been detained by the Kurds since January 2018.

 How can justice be served?

One possibility is to have IS members tried by the local justice system set up by the Kurdish self-administration in northeast Syria, says Marco Sassoli external link, director of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.

Another possibility is that the foreign fighters are sent back to their home countries.

The third possibility is to establish a kind of international tribunal, Sassoli told

They could also be transferred to Iraq and judged there, which has already happened in some cases.

The Geneva Academy recently co-organised a conference on the issue with the NGO Fight for Humanity, which produced a report and recommendationsexternal link. But none of the options are simple.

Could foreign fighters be repatriated?

With the notable exception of countries such as the US and Russia, most Western governments – and their electorates – are not keen on the idea of repatriating these “combatants”. Some countries, including Britain, have stripped former IS members of their nationality.

Switzerland has said it will not actively repatriate its nationals, and Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter has said she would prefer to see them tried where they are in Syria or Iraq, for security reasons.

Sassoli thinks the security fear is irrational.

“They are more dangerous in Syria than in a Swiss prison,” he says, because in Switzerland it is harder to escape and the political situation is stable, whereas the Kurdish area is a potential target for Syria and Turkey. He thinks repatriating nationals could be a good option if Western countries want to do “something special for their nationals”, but this option would have the disadvantage of being much further from the witnesses and the evidence.

“Active repatriation may only be examined for minors,” Swiss Foreign Ministry Spokesman Pierre-Alain Eltschinger told “In this regard, the best interest of the child is decisive.”

The Swiss government has rejected calls to actively repatriate Islamic militants with Swiss nationality from Syria or Iraq.

What about an international tribunal?

The Swiss government has raised the possibility of helping to set up an international tribunal and says it supports creating such a court. It participated in a preliminary meeting on this in Stockholm earlier this month with eleven European Union countries, but Eltschinger said that “no decisions were taken”.

“Such a court would have to provide for the guarantees inherent to the rule of law, be appropriately organised, impartial and enjoy broad international support among Switzerland’s partners,” the foreign ministry spokesman said via e-mail.

He also cited disadvantages to support for such a court, including its complexity and the fact that such an operation is very expensive. In addition, he said, evidence may be difficult to access because it depends on cooperation with multiple states.

“Depending on the court’s location, there is a risk of a lack of independence and political influence,” Eltschinger said.

Could it be a UN tribunal? And where would the court be based?

Sassoli says a UN court is not going to happen, and a tribunal in a European country is also unlikely because of security concerns. He thinks another possibility for a treaty-based international or mixed tribunal would be in Iraq, because Iraq would agree to it, unlike Syria.

A Syria-based court “would be quite revolutionary,” says Sassoli, “because it would mean establishing a tribunal on the territory of a state which does not consent”.

Iraq is already holding trials of IS members, including some foreign ones. But there are concerns, particularly regarding the death penalty which exists in Iraq (and not on Kurdish territory). For example, 11 French nationalsexternal link have been sentenced to death in Iraq for belonging to IS. But it is likely that Iraq would agree to a mixed tribunal according to international standards and no death penalty in exchange for significant Western help with expertise and infrastructure.

What crimes would the suspects be tried for?

Another issue is what kind of statute an international tribunal would have. For Switzerland and other European countries, simply belonging to IS is a crime, but Sassoli says that for credibility an international court should try suspects for war crimes. And in terms of international standards, it should also try everyone involved in the conflict on an equal basis, i.e. not just foreign fighters and not just IS.

“Everyone – the Syrians, the Iraqis, the foreigners – has the same right to judicial guarantees and if they committed war crimes they must be prosecuted.”

Who has a right to try IS suspects?

The Kurdish authorities are appealing for international support to conduct trials under their own justice system and have repeatedly stressed that they lack the resources to secure and care for such a high number of dangerous detainees. Kurdish representative Khaled Issa, who participated in the Geneva conference, told Swiss news agency Keystone-SDA that the Kurds’ self-administration had a right to try IS suspects because “they were arrested on our territory, they committed their crimes on our territory and the victims are our families and infrastructure”.

But helping the Kurdish authorities to improve their justice system and prisons would constitute a kind of recognition for them, which is delicate.

“From the point of view of Syria, but especially of Turkey, these are terrorists and rebels,” says Sassoli. “Establishing a criminal tribunal is not like establishing a health clinic. In the public’s perception, this is something done by states.”

Source: What should be done with foreigners who joined Islamic State?

Just 1000 third-generation foreigners apply for Swiss passport under easier citizenship rules

Interesting explanations of the restrictions responsible for the relatively low take-up:
Only a small percentage of the estimated 25,000 third-generation foreigners who can now take advantage of rule changes that make it easier for them to obtain Swiss citizenship have done so to date, but the current requirements may be partly to blame, a report published on Tuesday suggests.

Third-generation foreigners are those who were born in Switzerland and may have spent their lives here but who do not have Swiss citizenship because their parents and grandparents did not.

In 2017, the Swiss public voted in a referendum to allow this group to access to facilitated (or simplified) naturalization– a far simpler citizenship process usually reserved for the foreign spouses and children of Swiss citizens.

In February last year, the news rules came into effect.

However, a new report (here in French) published by the Federal Commission on Migration (FCM) shows just 1,065 third generation foreigners have applied for citizenship under the new rules so far, while 309 have already obtained the Swiss passport.

Eighty percent of applicants came from four countries – Italy, Turkey, Kosovo and Spain, according to the report.

Meanwhile, two thirds of the applications came from just six cantons, five of which are considered to have restrictive citizenship processes (Aargau, St Gallen, Solothurn, Thurgau and Basel).

The report had allowed applicants to sidestep restrictive cantonal policies, its authors said.

Parents school requirement as a legal obstacle

However, the FCM also recognised that the current rules for facilitated naturalisation for third-generation foreigners made it difficult for some applicants – specifically the requirement that they prove their parents had completed five years of compulsory schooling in Switzerland.

The FCM noted that this requirement did not match up to the immigration reality of many of Switzerland’s third-generation foreigners. The commission said that many of these people’s grandparents had come to Switzerland as seasonal workers and had only brought their children to the country when they had secured a residence permit.

As a result, many parents of potential candidates for facilitated immigration had not attended five years of school in Switzerland. However, many had completed professional training here.

The FCM recommended that the rules be changed to reflect this situation, with that professional education being recognised in place of the five years of compulsory schooling.

The commission also called on communes and cantons to do more to encourage third-generation foreigners to take out Swiss citizenship.

A flop?

Geneva newspaper Tribune de Genève labelled the results of the first year of the rule changes a “flop” but the woman behind the initiative, Ada Marra, whose grandparents emigrated to Switzerland in the 1960s, told Swiss news agency SDA she wasn’t disappointed at all.

She said the figures indicated that their was “a real need” in cantons with more restrictive citizenship policies.

The military service issue

Under the rules, only third-generation foreigners under the age of 25 can apply for facilitated citizenship. This was a proviso added in by parliament over fears people could shirk their military service obligations by only applying for citizenship after that age – though those currently aged 26-35 will be able to apply if they do so in the first five years of the new system.

Source: Just 1000 third-generation foreigners apply for Swiss passport under easier citizenship rules