Inside a school for future citizens

Earning a Swiss passport is not easy – even if you meet the strict application criteria, a knowledge of the ins and outs of the country is also required. Preparation courses exist for those hoping to become citizens. (RTS/SWI)

This content was published on June 6, 2018

The recent case of a British-born, long-term resident in Switzerland, who was denied citizenship for purportedly not knowing the precise origins of the raclette dish (it’s canton Valais) is the latest example of the harsh vicissitudes of the Swiss naturalisation system.

+ Read more about "raclette-gate" and the man denied citizenship

And though authorities in the man’s local municipality in canton Schwyz have defended their decision and said that cheese was irrelevant to the outcome, the nature of the question – and the knowledge of Swiss history, geography, and culture that it implies – is not uncommon.

Do you know what Switzerland’s highest mountain is? In what year the confederation was founded? How many signatures are needed to bring a people’s initiative to ballot?

For those unsure of their Swiss chops, a diverse range of preparation courses are now available. In Payerne in canton Vaud, for example (see video), the local administration offers lessons, taught by volunteers, to foreigners who have lived in Switzerland for at least 10 years and are applying for citizenship.

The courses are optional, for now, and cost CHF150 ($152) per person, or CHF200 for a couple. Teachers try to transmit basic knowledge of geography, history, and socio-political affairs on three levels: national, cantonal, and local.

In canton Vaud, following a revision to a federal law on nationality that came into force in January 2018, naturalisation candidates now hand their application in at the cantonal, rather than local, level. As for the basic knowledge, they must learn the answers to some 160 questions.

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