Streetwise Professor

January 17, 2018

No Yodeling Required!: Swiss Sanity on Citizenship

Filed under: Economics,Politics — The Professor @ 7:39 pm

Not long after finishing my immigration post, I came across this article that cracked me up:

Dutch vegan who applied for a Swiss passport has had her application rejected because the locals found her too annoying

Nancy Holten, 42, moved to Switzerland from the Netherlands when she was eight years old and now has children who are Swiss nationals.

However, when she tried to get a Swiss passport for herself, residents of Gipf-Oberfrick in the canton of Aargau rejected her application.

I guess they can’t kick her out, but they can deprive her of citizenship.  (And “Oberfrick”–heh.)

This is an amusing illustration of a broader Swiss principle: who gets to be Swiss depends on their contribution to Switzerland, and their ability to integrate with those already there.  A more serious illustration comes from a recent change in Swiss citizenship law:

On 20 June 2016, the Swiss Parliament voted on the new Swiss Citizenship Act, which will come into force together with the relevant Ordinance on 1 January 2018. The main aim of the new law is to limit the issuance of Swiss citizenship to well-integrated foreign nationals only. Furthermore, the Citizenship Act also aims to harmonise the residence requirements and implement into a law the authorities’ practice. [Emphasis added.]

. . . .

Under current law, the basic requirements to obtain Swiss citizenship can be summarised as follows: a. The applicant must have resided a minimum of 12 years in Switzerland (of which at least three years within the five years prior to the application) and a certain amount of time (usually between two to five years) in a specific canton and in a specific commune prior to being able to apply. Shorter periods apply to certain categories of applicants aged between 10 and 20 years for whom the years spent in Switzerland between their 10th and 20th birthdays count double in the calculation of the 12- year period required at the federal level. b. The applicant must prove that he/she is well integrated in Switzerland. As per the current practice of the Swiss authorities, the following requirements usually need to be fulfilled: the applicant must have a clean criminal record, prove that he/she fulfils all financial obligations, in particular with respect to tax payment, has a good reputation, has a good knowledge of a Swiss national language (i.e. French, German or Italian), has a basic knowledge of Swiss geography and history, and knows how the Swiss political system functions. c. Additional requirements may need to be met according to the respective cantonal and/or communal laws.

. . . .

Only applicants holding a C-type permit (permanent residence permit) may apply for Swiss citizenship (currently, holders of B-type residence permits may also apply). The applicant must have resided a total of 10 years in Switzerland (not 12 years as today). The ordinance to the SCA now details the concept of ‘good integration’. According to the ordinance, an applicant is deemed as being well integrated if he/she:

• has good oral and written language skills in one of the national languages;

• respects the public order and security;

• respects the Swiss federal constitution;

• participates in the economic life or undergoes education, i.e. the applicant is employed or attends a school/university;

• ensures that his/her family members are integrated;

• is not a threat to the internal and external security of Switzerland;

• is familiar with Swiss living conditions.

Applicants with a criminal record or who are dependent on Swiss social welfare will most likely be rejected.

Indeed, regarding the last point, the new law precludes citizenship for those who have been on public assistance in any time in the past three years.

Fortunately, it appears that yodeling is not a requirement!

Note that none of these criteria are based on nation of origin.  There will no doubt be a relationship between the likelihood of meeting these criteria, and whether one emigrates from a s***hole, but the law does not discriminate or create quotas on the basis of national origin (which is likely by itself to be a very crude proxy for ability to contribute, and which is part of US law primarily as the result of ethnic politics).

Certain aspects of the Swiss naturalization system are not practical for the US.  In particular, the role of cantonal and communal authorities in authorizing citizenship (as the Annoying Dutch Vegan found out to her chagrin) is a non-starter here.  This conflicts with the US Constitution, and is at odds with the much greater mobility of Americans vs. Swiss.  But the principle of conditioning citizenship on integration, fluency in a national language, non-dependence on public assistance, lack of a criminal record, etc., is certainly possible in the US, and makes sense.  It is certainly a more rational and sober policy than one that revolves around nauseating pap about “dreamers” and the like: whenever a debate centers on agitprop and euphemisms you know it is fundamentally dishonest and manipulative.

You can’t paint the Swiss as mouth-breathing populist, nationalist wackos: if anything, they are a little too control-freakish for me (and most Americans, I’d wager).  Indeed, the Swiss have been very successful at balancing a deep integration in the world economy and international institutions with a pride in their own national traditions and mores, and a desire to preserve them.  They have avoided many of the problems that somewhat similar nations (notably Sweden and the Netherlands) have experienced with their immigration policies. (There’s nothing like Malmo or Gothenburg or Rotterdam in Switzerland.)  The Swiss have struck a reasonable balance between openness to foreigners and national pride, and are not consumed by the neurotic complexes and self-loathing that have paralyzed many Swedes, Dutch, Germans, etc. (and the governments of these nations).

Switzerland therefore represents a plausible example/role model for a reasoned immigration debate in the US. Yet it is almost never mentioned here.

And it’s not just immigration.  The Swiss health care system has much to recommend it–far more than the dysfunctional system that prevails in the US.  The Swiss model would be a great starting place for a transformation of US healthcare.  I’d prefer an even more market-based system, but politics is the art of the practical, and I realize that my ideal is not gonna happen. But the Swiss model meets many of the goals of the left in a much more efficient way than our current system, and certainly dominates monstrosities like the UK or Canadian systems.

It would be impossible–and indeed, highly objectionable–to try to make the US like Switzerland. For myriad reasons. But there are some things we can take from Switzerland, or should at least consider seriously. Not that I’m holding my breath.

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  1. If the Republican caucus would agree to regulate pharmaceutical prices and mandate individual coverage with the government limiting premiums to 10% (I think?) of income, I think a lot of democrats would go along with that.

    Comment by Anonpls — January 17, 2018 @ 10:11 pm

  2. I await the usual lame American objection that it’s quite, quite different because Switzerland’s population is only x million.

    Comment by dearieme — January 18, 2018 @ 6:23 am

  3. The Swiss system would be even better if they introduced ostracism, on the model of the very best Greek democracy.

    Comment by dearieme — January 18, 2018 @ 6:26 am

  4. Swiss citizenship is a strange beast, traditionally, you’re citizen of your Gemeinde (community) and Kanton, and that just implicitly means you’re citizen of the federation (the same way you’re an EU citizen by virtue of being a citizen of a member state). And the community votes. The federal law only sets the _minimum_ requirements for getting citizenship. In smaller, remote Kantons it is usually way stricter.

    But this is slowly changing, in bigger cities, and urban Kantons the community voting is mostly replaced with a formalized process – there’s no way to ask several hundred thousand Zürchers “please vote on whether you think Herr Ibrahim Albanovic is going to be an upstanding citizen”.

    BTW, the woman got the Schweizerpass in the meantime.

    Comment by tegla — January 18, 2018 @ 1:51 pm

  5. It looks like the Swiss have come up with something similar to my “let individual Americans sponsor” comment on the Jan 15 post. I think Newt Gingrich at one time suggested a policy something like this one that involved delegating judgements on the quality of individual applicants to local governments. The Catholic church, when considering eligibility for godparenthood, defers to local parishes for determination of good standing.

    Maybe the urban Swiss (and we) can go to a system, akin to bond rating, where a candidate for citizenship can get an endorsement and upstanding citizenship score from

    Comment by M. Rad. — January 18, 2018 @ 5:38 pm

  6. Switzerland is interesting in a number of ways, not least how so many groups who fundamentally do not like one another are able to live together peaceably and productively. I always wonder why, when countries become independent (or are replacing an overthrown dictator with a new regime) and they have strong ethnic or confessional cleavages, they don’t consider some modified version of the Swiss constitution.

    OTOH, my sense of the situation (from reading and talking to a few people) is that many foreigners working in Switzerland, even for long periods with strong credentials and achievement, become quite frustrated with the insular and discriminatory nature of Swiss society. South Asians appear particularly aggrieved.

    Comment by srp — January 19, 2018 @ 7:21 pm

  7. Prof. I think should spend a bit of time looking at the actual Canadian immigration system and not the portrayal of it in the US media. Speaking as a UK citizen who has been through it. The Swiss checklist is pretty much the same for Canadian citizenship

    Permanent Resident status
    Time you have lived in Canada
    Income tax filing
    Language skills
    How well you know Canada

    Comment by Steve — January 19, 2018 @ 9:59 pm

  8. “Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock…”
    Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

    Comment by Simple Simon — January 20, 2018 @ 11:19 am

  9. Forgive my going O/T, but has this remarkable story had much coverage in the US media? I found it a hoot.

    Comment by dearieme — January 20, 2018 @ 10:23 pm

  10. When I read about that woman [activism on behalf of poor abused Swiss cows, 5kg-cowbells, etc], I think there was a mention that she had already applied for citizenship in 2015, and it was rejected on the same grounds. Apparently, this is more like encounter of mulish stubbornness from both sides – or rather, to be geographically applicable, of two mountain goats.

    To citizenship requirements: the tactic depends on the strategy. Before we start looking at other countries’ tactics, I think we should re-examine out goals. Switzerland’s goal is to defend country’s integrity and population numbers against the hostile outside world. Is this what we want to achieve?

    Also: I was reading all the requirements and was waiting for the logical [in my view] paragraph: if naturalized citizen, after being granted this privilege, violates these requirements (especially ones about criminal deeds, violence, participation in public order & security) – (s)he is stripped of citizenship and escorted out of the country. I guarantee that this will decrease number of citizenship applications in half!
    We’ve seen how many terrorist acts are committed, especially in European countries, by naturalized citizens. Look at our own “Chechen” brothers’ bombing at Boston marathon. If they knew that their act will result in immediate removal of their citizen’ rights, in deportation of them and their family, some might think twice.

    Comment by ETat — January 21, 2018 @ 8:52 am

  11. “Look at our own “Chechen” brothers’ bombing at Boston marathon.” I wonder if they did it. The FBI seemed awfully keen to kill anyone who might know.

    Comment by dearieme — January 21, 2018 @ 9:30 am

  12. Dearie has [naturally] regressed into a “truther”!

    Comment by ETat — January 21, 2018 @ 9:38 am

  13. @dearieme

    “I wonder if they did it.” – according to Russia expert Andrey Piontkovsky, they did not: this was an FSB special operation, part of the long and largely successful campaign of covertly sponsoring terrorism in the West while publicly urging the West to cooperate. As in “nice little life you got there, would be a shame if more terrorism happened to it due to lack of cooperation with Russia”.

    Comment by Ivan — January 21, 2018 @ 1:36 pm

  14. ‘Dearie has [naturally] regressed into a “truther”!’ Anyone who has not been struck by the FBI’s murder of their witness to the lives of the brothers has not been paying attention. Why did they do that?

    Comment by dearieme — January 21, 2018 @ 6:11 pm

  15. @Steve et al. Yes, Canada’s immigration system–and Australia’s and New Zealand’s too–have many similarities with the Swiss. They are all pragmatically selective, and unencumbered by the romantic delusions of many European countries (notably Germany and Sweden)–just look at the way that the Australians handle refugees attempting to reach their country by sea vs. how that is handled in the EU.

    A major reason that the US does not take a similar approach is that it is contrary to the interests of one of the major parties.

    @srp–I spend a lot of time in Switzerland and understand that they are indeed insular. But in their eyes, that’s a feature not a bug, and they want to maintain Switzerland for the Swiss. Which explains their immigration policy. There is a cost–they exclude some talented immigrants. But it’s a cost they are aware of and are evidently willing to pay.

    As for the relative comity of Switzerland’s diverse language and cultural communities, I think this is readily explained: federalism. Federalism of a kind that is only a dim memory in the US reduces the potential for inter-community distributive battles. The relative weakness of the national government reduces the stakes, and therefore reduces the intensity of political battles.

    Visiting Bern, and meeting with government officials there, was an eye-opening experience. The national capital is a sleepy burg that one could easily mistake for a smaller US state capital. This shows clearly that the national government is not the dominant entity that it is in the US. The cantons have a lot of authority and autonomy, which given their internal homogeneity, allows for a relatively low-key relationship between the various communities.

    Insofar as the inevitable deficiencies of any bureaucratically designed immigration system are concerned, I agree. What it comes down to, as always, is a choice between imperfect alternatives. Maybe the best way is to allocate a scare resource–the right to immigrate–via a price system, with restrictions (e.g., criminals and kleptocrats can’t buy their way in).

    On his excellent White Sun of the Desert blog Tim Newman makes an excellent point about the apparently educated and high income immigrants from places like Nigeria: coming from rent seeking societies, we should not confuse their income or education with productivity.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — January 21, 2018 @ 7:21 pm

  16. @dearieme–No coverage whatsoever. Shocking, I know.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — January 21, 2018 @ 9:57 pm

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