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Switzerland votes on third-generation immigrant citizenship

February 12, 2017

Voters have cast ballots on introducing easier naturalization procedures for noncitizens whose families have lived in Switzerland for three generations. There were also referendums on tax laws and a 2026 Olympic bid.

Referendum zur Zuwanderung in der Schweiz
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Della Valle

Swiss voters headed to the polls on Sunday to cast their votes in multiple referendums, including one on whether to simplify the naturalization process for "third-generation foreigners" who are younger than 25. This group comprises the grandchildren of immigrants who have at least one grandparent who was either born in Switzerland or who acquired Swiss residency.

A "Yes" vote in the Alpine country of around 8 million would allow approximately 25,000 people to fast-track their citizenship application in a process that echoes one already available for the spouses of Swiss nationals. Most politicians and government officials support the measure, and it is expected to pass, though different polls show varying amounts of support.

Schweiz Referendum Durchführungsinitiative
Switzerland frequently uses referenda in its political process. Image: picture-alliance/dpa/G. Ehrenzeller

The referendum on citizenship comes after controversial campaigns against the bureaucratic streamlining by the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP), which argued that the move would enable Islamic extremists to acquire citizenship.

Critics accuse the SVP of wanting to inflame sentiment against Muslims. Among other things, they decried a widely circulated poster depicting a woman wearing a niqab, the full-face covering that shows only the wearer's eyes, with a slogan urging voters to reject "uncontrolled citizenship." Although the SVP was not directly behind the controversial ad, some of the party's leadership formed part of the organization that published it.

According to the AFP news agency, around 60 percent of individuals who would be eligible for fast-tracked citizenship are Italians, followed by immigrants with Balkan and then Turkish roots.

Schweiz Zürich - Mit Graffity verändertes Plakat des Schweizer Komitees gegen erleichterte Einbürgerung
A billboard by immigration opponents originally read: "Unchecked naturalization? No to an easier path to citizenship." But it was altered to read: "Unchecked incitement? No - Yes to an easier path to citizenship."Image: Reuters/A. Wiegmann

Tax changes

Schweiz Symbolbild Rote Ampel
Will the Swiss greenlight tax reform?Image: Getty Images/Sean Gallup

A separate referendum asked Swiss voters to weigh in on abolishing preferential tax rates for certain companies. A vote in favor of abolishing the two-tier system would bring Switzerland in line with international tax standards. The government would offset the elimination of preferential rates by lowering the general corporate tax rate in order to continue to attract foreign investment.

The Social Democratic Party, which argues that the replacement tax breaks would favor multinational companies over smaller firms and result in net income tax loss, hopes to defeat the bill.

2026 Olympics

A third referendum in the canton of Graubünden (French: Grison) gave voters there a say on whether or not to bid for the 2026 Winter Olympic games. In 2013, the canton's inhabitants rejected a similar proposal to host the international sporting event in 2022. Those games eventually went to Beijing.

Switzerland frequently employs referendato give its citizens a direct say in its democracy. This Sunday is one of four in the year reserved for referenda on various issues affecting laws and institutions at both the federal and the local level.  

Sunday's results were due shortly after the polls closed at 11 UTC.

cmb/tj (dpa, AP, AFP)