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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

How powerful is the Swiss passport?

Got a Swiss passport or thinking about getting one? This is how it stacks up compared to official travel documents of other countries.

A Swiss passport seen up close.
A Swiss passport seen up close. By SDE. - Own scan., Public Domain,

In Switzerland, around one in four residents come from abroad. While plenty want to become Swiss, they’ve not done so due to the difficulty in obtaining the little red book. 

In 2019, the last year for which statistics are available, just over 41,000 foreigners received their Swiss passports. This number is slightly lower than in 2017 (about 45,000) and 2018 (42,5000).

Unlike many other countries, being born in Switzerland doesn’t automatically mean the person is Swiss if their parents were born abroad and still hold foreign passports.

But anyone who has managed to get their hands on a Swiss passport should know they have one of the world’s most powerful. That’s according to a new study the London law firm Henley & Partners, which ranked Switzerland’s passport as the equal fourth strongest worldwide.

IN NUMBERS: How many people become Swiss each year – and where do they come from?

The rankings are on the basis of the amount of visa-free countries a person holding that passport can visit (on the basis of 2021 immigration rules). 

Anyone holding a Swiss passport can visit 186 countries on a visa free basis, ranking Switzerland alongside New Zealand and Belgium in sixth position. 

Top place was taken out by both Japan and Singapore, who can visit 192 countries visa free. 

A graph shows the countries with the strongest passports

Which country has the strongest passport? Graph prepared by Statista for The Local.

Where do other countries rank?

There are big differences in the number of countries that can be visited visa-free or with a visa-on-arrival.

Citizens of Finland, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain can visit 189 countries visa-free with their passports. 

Holders of a UK and US passport can head off to 185 countries without having to figure out visa paperwork. Australians can visit 184 countries visa-free. 

Austrian and Danish citizens are allowed to travel to 188 countries without an explicit entry permit.

At the other end of the scale are some passports which only allow entry to a handful of countries. 

Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have the weakest passports in terms of areas citizens can travel to without an entry permit – they have visa-free access to less than 30 countries worldwide.

How does the study work?

The law firm Henley & Partners evaluates data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), among other factors, and provides travellers with information on which countries they can travel to with their passports and whether a visa is required.

Each passport is scored on the total number of destinations that the holder can access visa-free. For each travel destination, if no visa is required, then a score of 1 is given to that passport. This also applies if passport holders can obtain a visa on arrival, a visitor’s permit, or an electronic travel authority (ETA) upon entry.

For countries that require a visa or where a passport holder has to apply for a government-approved electronic visa (e-Visa) before departure, a score of zero is given. The same applies if they need pre-departure approval for a visa on arrival.

The country ranking, however, does not take into account the current travel restrictions resulting from the coronavirus pandemic of which there are many. 

For instance Swiss passport holders – and other EU citizens – are not currently allowed to travel to Australia. 

However, US president Joe Biden announced recently that the US will let vaccinated Europeans enter the country from November.

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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

Switzerland refuses to make it easier to become Swiss

Switzerland's Federal Council rejected a motion by some MPs to make the process of obtaining Swiss citizenship easier for certain foreigners.

Switzerland refuses to make it easier to become Swiss

In view of the low naturalisation rate in Switzerland, MP Katja Christ from the Green Liberal party has filed a motion asking to revise the minimum length of stay required to obtain Swiss citizenship from 10 to seven years.

Christ also pointed out that the naturalisation process itself, especially on the municipal level, should be revamped.

That is because such a procedure sometimes involves discriminatory decisions by the communal assembly, which are based on the candidate’s origin rather than his or her eligibility for citizenship, she said.

The government responded that any denial of naturalisation believed by the candidate to be unjustified can be appealed.

Another MP, Corina Gredig, also asked to lower the minimum length of stay required by the cantons for naturalisation from the current five to three years, arguing that many people move from one canton before the five-year term.

READ MORE: Which Swiss cantons have the strictest citizenship requirements?

However, on Thursday the Federal Council rejected the motions, saying that a revised legislation on foreigners went into effect in 2019, so fairly recently, and the issues brought up in the two recent motions were already addressed at that time.

During the debates leading up to the new legislation, the parliament refused to reduce the minimum length of stay in Switzerland to eight years and in cantons  three years, authorities said.

The law lays out criteria not only for naturalisation, but also for integration in general, as well as for conditions to receive work permits in Switzerland, which include the need to provide certificates from government-accredited institutions to prove language proficiency.

READ MORE: Work permits: Switzerland introduces new rules for language proficiency certificates

The refusal to lighten up naturalisation requirements comes amid ongoing discussions in Switzerland about how to make this process easier for third-generation foreigners who are eligible to become Swiss.

Unlike many other countries, being born in Switzerland doesn’t automatically mean the person is Swiss.

If their parents were born abroad and still hold foreign passports, a person will not obtain Swiss citizenship at birth. 

Even though they were born in Switzerland and have lived their entire lives in Switzerland, they have the same nationality as their parents and will continue to be considered as foreigners – until and unless they become naturalised.

However, this process is more complex than it seems, as it is unreasonably bureaucratic, requiring proof that is often difficult to obtain.

EXPLAINED: Why so few third-generation Swiss are actually ‘Swiss’?

As a result of these strict conditions, very few third-generation foreigners become Swiss: out of about 25,000 people in this category, only 1,847 received their Swiss passports at the end of 2020 — the last year for which official statistics are available.

“There should be political will to implement change, which is not the case”, Rosita Fibbi, migration sociologist at the Swiss Forum for the Study of Migration and Population at the University of Neuchâtel, told The Local in an interview on May 4th.

“No significant steps to make the process truly easier have been introduced to date”; she added.

The latest Federal Council decision  not to act on the recent motions means no relief is in sight on the naturalisation front.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why so many foreigners in Switzerland skip naturalisation?
 

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