Going against the grain, Switzerland will make it easier for outsiders to become citizens

Direct democracy.
Direct democracy.
Image: EPA/Benjamin Manser
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Europeans are so weary of immigration that a recent poll found a majority of them support Donald’s Trump’s controversial order blocking people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the US. But a recent referendum in Switzerland stands in stark contrast to the growing anti-immigrant feeling across the continent.

Some 60% of Swiss voters voted in favor of a government-sponsored initiative (paywall) to make it easier for third-generation immigrants to obtain citizenship yesterday; 17 of the country’s 23 electoral regions voted in favor of the measure, easily surpassing the minimum of 12 required for it to pass.

Children born in Switzerland do not automatically become citizens. The recent measure doesn’t change this, but it does speed up the approval process for Swiss-born people whose parents and grandparents have permanent residence status in the country. The measure is expected to benefit around 24,000 people, most of whom are Italian, followed by people from the Balkans and Turkey. Others who don’t have family connections to Switzerland will still have to live in the country for 12 years and go through a series of tests and interviews to gain citizenship.

Just over a decade ago, Swiss voters rejected government-backed proposals to automatically give citizenship to third-generation immigrants and ease the process for migrant children raised and schooled in the country. In the run up to this weekend’s referendum, the right-wing populist Swiss People’s party (SVP) argued the initiative would give passports to thousands of new citizens who don’t share “Swiss values.” The party campaigned against the proposals with posters showing a woman in a niqab with the slogan “no unchecked naturalization.”

The latest referendum result marks a second consecutive referendum defeat for the SVP, who led a robust anti-immigration campaign ahead of a referendum last year on a move to expel foreigners who commit crimes without appeal. The party plastered public spaces with a controversial poster showing a white sheep kicking a black sheep over the border. The measure was rejected by 59% of Swiss voters.

Dyed in the wool?
Dyed in the wool?

In 2014, Swiss voters narrowly backed a proposal to put a cap on immigration from EU countries, which would force a re-write of its trade and investment relationships with the bloc. But at the end of last year, the Swiss parliament watered down the measure for fear of losing access to its largest export markets.