By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe
BERN, Switzerland — Switzerland just voted to make the immigration process easier for third-generation immigrants to become citizens. Prior to the vote, a “fast-track” route to citizenship in Switzerland was only available to foreigners who were married to a Swiss citizen for over six years. Non-Swiss residents were required to wait an average of 12 years before applying for citizenship.
The new process exempts third-generation immigrants who were born in Switzerland, and whose parents and grandparents resided permanently in Switzerland, from interviews and tests throughout the application process. The interviews and tests are administered by town councils, and include requests for applicants to name local cheeses or mountains to ensure they are well-integrated into the Swiss culture.
The new immigration process does not make citizenship an automatic process, however. It will continue to require immigrant-hopefuls to prove they are 25 years of age or younger, were born in Switzerland, attended school there for at least five years, share Swiss cultural values, speak the national language, and do not depend on state aid.
Rightwing politicians in Switzerland argue that relaxing the process will pose a security threat to the country, and that this is the first step in grant all immigrants currently in Switzerland citizenship. The Swiss People’s Party, a political party often accused of demonizing Islam, warned of the risks of the possible “loss of Swiss values” through the citizenship of more Muslims. Some believe the new process might lead to “Islamisation” of Switzerland. In support of that argument, a poster was distributed to the public that featured a woman wearing a niqab with a caption that encouraged voters to reject “uncontrolled” citizenship.
Proponents of the simplified citizenship process argue that it is unfair to request that people who were born in and have lived in Switzerland all of their lives to prove they are integrated. The new law will affect about 25,000 people, the majority of whom are of Italian descent. Other large populations in Switzerland include foreigners from the Balkans and Turkey.
Over the past 30 years, three attempts to relax citizenship process were rejected by voters.
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