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Switzerland ease citizenship for ‘third-generation’ foreigners

Voters in Switzerland decided Sunday to make it easier for young “third-generation foreigners” to get Swiss citizenship, agreeing to extend to about 25,000 people under age 25 access to the fast-track process now available to foreign spouses of Swiss nationals.

A “naturalization of third-generation immigrants” measure passed in a national referendum with 60.4% of the vote, Swiss broadcaster SRF reported. The measure gives young people whose parents and grandparents have lived in Switzerland for years a simplified path to citizenship.

Being born in Switzerland doesn’t automatically confer citizenship in Switzerland and some other European countries. While about 25,000 people are estimated to be eligible for the new process, the referendum’s passage ultimately could be far-reaching in a country where non-citizens make up one-fourth of the population.

Voters on Sunday also rejected a complex tax reform initiative aimed at getting Switzerland in line with international standards.

SRF reported that 59.1% of voters rejected the tax reform referendum, which would have scrapped a two-track tax system that offers lower rates to foreign firms to lure investment.

Experts say the tax initiative’s failure means that overall rates are likely to be set higher which would be a disincentive to companies that bring in jobs and ultimately tax revenues.

Many domestic companies, meanwhile, could see their tax rates go down.

Critics including regional government leaders and much of the political left had said the initiative would deplete tax coffers for an uncertain payoff.

Proponents had countered that the reforms were needed to keep competitive a country that has few exportable natural resources and relies heavily on globalized industries such as finance and pharmaceuticals.

The “third-generation foreigners” initiative will mean less paperwork, fewer delays and lower fees for anyone under 25 whose parents and grandparents have lived in Switzerland for years, but who did not go through the time-consuming, onerous naturalization process.

Its immediate beneficiaries are mostly people from elsewhere in Europe or Turkey whose families have been in the Alpine nation for decades, not migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East whose recent arrival in Europe has sparked a backlash from the political far-right.

Switzerland, which is not in the 28-nation European Union but is all but surrounded by bloc members, has been taking in foreigners for centuries.

To become a citizen generally requires 12 years of residency, mastery of at least one of Switzerland’s four national languages, and honouring the “fundamental values” of the Swiss Constitution, such as equal rights for women and men and freedom of conscience.

Sunday’s referendum was the latest instalment of Switzerland’s direct democracy that gives voters a frequent say on political decisions. A third issue on the national ballot involving infrastructure spending passed with 61.9% of the votes.

Voters in the eastern Graubuenden canton, or region, also decided against a bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics. Four years ago, the region rejected a similar referendum about the 2022 Winter Games, which were eventually awarded to Beijing.

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