The Swiss Federal Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by a family of Iraqi and Pakistani origin whose Swiss nationality application was rejected due to non-repayment of social welfare benefits.
The family – a 50-year old Pakistani man, his 38-year-old Iraqi wife and their eight-year-old daughter – had submitted their application for naturalisation in February 2013 to the canton Bern authorities. However, nine months later, the canton had amended it laws on naturalisation that required applicants to have reimbursed any social welfare payments made in the last ten years. After the amendment to the law, the Bern cantonal officials had requested the family to provide proof that they had repaid welfare payments but the applicants decided to press on with their original application.
Their municipality and the federal government approved their application. However, unfortunately for the applicants, the cantonal authorities discovered that they had received welfare payments worth CHF73,394 ($75,245) between 2004 and 2006 rendering their application void under the new cantonal naturalisation regulations.
The family appealed against what appeared to be a retroactive decision. However, in a judgement made on May 4 and released on Friday, the highest court in the land ruled that the cantonal constitutional amendment could be used even if the corresponding legislation had not been adopted.
Naturalisation procedures vary considerably from one commune or canton to another: some communes, for instance, require applicants to take a verbal or written naturalisation test while others leave the naturalisation decision up to the communal assembly. The duration of the procedure also varies considerably from one canton to another.
However, federal requirements will be made more uniform under a revised law that comes into effect in 2018. For example, knowledge of a national language to a minimum spoken level of B1 and written level of A2 will be required. Applicants cannot have benefited from social welfare three years before applying or during the naturalisation procedure either.