Becoming Swiss is not an easy task, and it is often difficult to get through naturalization procedures. This is why RL Learning wishes to help you prepare your application through its “Obtaining Swiss Nationality” course. In order to clearly understand this process, RL Learning asked Martin *, a student at our school, some questions.
“You must put all means at your disposal”
Martin, you’re arriving at the end of the proceedings to become a Swiss citizen. How long did it take?
I would say that the procedure lasts about a whole year. From the official request to the sending of the completed file, it takes two to three months to collect evidence of residence (rent receipts, air tickets, testimonies of neighbors …). Once the file has been received by the Federal Migration Office, it also lasts two to three months. Once the application has been validated, the Office will call the applicant for an interview, giving it a period of one to three months. Finally, once the interview has been carried out, the cantonal authorities to which the applicant is attached will conduct a proximity survey to verify that the persons involved in the case are, at first, existing and then admissible as sources. This survey usually takes two to four months.
What does this survey consist of?
In order to apply for Swiss nationality, the applicant must prove that he has resided in Switzerland for a period of 12 years or more. For this, they must obviously provide evidence as mentioned earlier, but also testimonies from Swiss citizens. The administration is not exhaustive as what type of evidence to be provided, so you must put all means at your disposal to prove that he has indeed lived in Switzerland. Hence the importance of the testimonies. The persons involved will also have to testify to the goodwill of the applicant, especially on his or her respect for Swiss values; if you’ve been a bad neighbor during one of your stays, you might want to be careful not to involve our former neighbors … These people can also be university professors (in the case of a university course) or someone from the administrative staff of your adopted city. Even, and this is regularly the case, the witnesses may be Swiss expatriates with whom the applicant is or has been in contact with. It is very common to find Swiss expat gatherings in all major European cities, and it is a great way to create a network before applying for naturalization.
“Learning the language is a prerequisite”
You talked about an interview: what is it really about?
The person who will ask you questions is usually the one in charge of your case. It is divided into three parts: first, the interviewer asks us about the reasons for your application. Then he or she gives you a questionnaire – of about thirty or forty questions -, which we must fill before him or her. All questions are based on our knowledge of Switzerland: politics (administration, role of the cantons, role of the Federation, composition of the different chambers), historical, geographical (names of capitals of cantons …) and cultural (filmmakers, painters, actors, localities). This is where my classes at RL Learning have been of the greatest help. Even after twelve years in Switzerland, some references may escape us; but thanks to RL Learning, I was able to acquire all this knowledge very quickly. Finally, the examiner rereads the questionnaire and, if necessary, develops some questions further.
What does an applicant need to know about this interview?
It is necessary to take into account the sheer objectivity of the administrative maneuver. Nothing goes through the affect. If we have a shady past but all the pieces are collected, we pass; if you have an exemplary past but you’re missing a sub-sub-sub-part to a question on the record, you’re not even auditioned. The administration is not interested in your career, nor your qualifications: what they want to know is if you’re willing to endorse Swiss values.
So you’re saying that these values are a prerequisite to naturalization …
Absolutely, yes. Endorsing civility, living together in harmony, common decision, decentralization… They are essential. Despite a favored immigration policy, the Swiss safely gate-keep their values: they refuse to “dilute” them, and are uncompromising as to the safeguarding of this common thought. Hence the usefulness of RL Learning courses: even if I am French, I needed this base, to familiarize with Swiss culture and values. Of course, we must not forget a key point: languages. The four official languages are French, German, Italian and Romansh (even if only 2% of the population speak it!). Mastery of one of these four languages is also a prerequisite.
“Swiss culture is based on sedentariness and solidarity”
Where do these Swiss values come from?
In order to properly grasp the nature of Switzerland, we need to consider it geographically: it is landlocked, with a rather barren long plain… From then on, you understand more clearly the sedentary aspect of Swiss culture. Everything is done so you never have to leave your village. Administration, transports, hospitals, schools; everything is on a municipality scale. Thanks to Vesna’s courses at RL Learning, I learned more about the history of Switzerland: the country is rather decentralized since it was born from a cooptation and the rallying of several cantons. Then, the country is not naturally divided into counties, because everything is done at the scale of the municipality. Switzerland is the counter-example of the France of Napoléon, where the land is cut-out and centralized on the capital.
So the collective predominates in Switzerland?
Absolutely. Vesna told us the story of Henry Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross, and it is a very good example of this cultural aspect. During Napoléon Wars, Dunant, seeing that the French abandoned their wounded soldiers on the battlefield, wanted to create a structure that would care for them on the spot, so they would not be left to die. It is the ‘no man left behind’ spirit, the one of collective effort, of a deeply rooted mutual aid. Swiss culture is based on sedentariness and solidarity. It also explains the importance of being a good citizen: if everyone does their part, then the country is doing well. But this collective spirit transcends borders.
How do you mean?
Until recently, Switzerland has always been a very poor country (particularly because of its geographical position). It is for this reason that expatriation is an integral part of Swiss culture. In the nineteenth century, this was demonstrated by the mercenary soldiers who would fight alongside neighboring countries. Later on, it was young girls who, unable to help in the fields, were sent to serve as a nanny or a housekeeper in France. Today, this expatriation culture continues on, no longer for economic reasons, but always with a collective spirit (I mentioned Swiss expatriate clubs earlier, which illustrate well that idea).
Thank you for your time Martin, and good luck!
* The name has been changed to respect the student’s privacy.