A tale of two citizenships

May 9, 2012, 16 Comments

33 days. That’s how long it took for Michele Bachmann to become Swiss, via her husband. The American politician now has dual nationality but didn’t have to go through any of the enormous hurdles that potential Swiss citizens face in Switzerland itself. So how come she could be Swiss in little over a month? Because she married Marcus Bachmann in 1978, that’s how: when he became Swiss, so did she automatically.

I have a friend here in Bern. She is also from North America and also married to a Swiss man. In the seven years that she has lived in Bern, she has learnt Swiss German, got a job, paid taxes, joined clubs and integrated herself into Swiss society in an exemplary way. And yet for her to become Swiss via her husband took almost two years of applications, paperwork, interviews, fees and typically endless Swiss bureaucracy.

Michele Bachmann merely had to wait for her husband to apply for his citizenship and then – hey presto! – 33 days later she was Swiss. She doesn’t live here, doesn’t pay taxes, and probably speaks none of the national languages. And yet she can now vote and have a say in Swiss affairs. Is that really fair? Is that really how citizenship should be awarded?

Mr Bachmann’s parents liked Switzerland so much that they left. He himself was so keen to become Swiss that he waited all his life until 15 February this year to apply, based on his parents’ nationality. And it only took 33 days for both the Bachmanns to become citizens of Thurgau. That’s their right under Swiss law. No problem. But why give them preferential treatment over people who live and work here?

For years the right-wing SVP has campaigned in Switzerland against the increasing rates of naturalisation and Swiss citizenship. It even had a suitably xenophobic poster showing different coloured hands grabbing Swiss passports. Presumably the SVP will be objecting to Mrs Bachmann’s new-found nationality on the basis that she contributes nothing to Swiss society and would most likely fail the tests that it is so keen for all potential new Swiss citizens to take. Then again, maybe not. She is white, Christian, conservative and relatively well off. The only type of Swiss people the SVP really likes.

So welcome to Switzerland, Mrs Bachmann! Now you can open a Swiss bank account without any problems or objections from the American media, something Mitt Romney would love. Or even move here after Obama has won again in November. Maybe that’s the real reason behind this sudden conversion to Swissness.

Thanks to Arthur Honegger from SF Tageschau and for breaking this story.


16 Comments on "A tale of two citizenships"

  1. Robert Bachmann Thursday May 10th, 2012 at 11:12 AM · Reply

    No swiss bank account for Michelle Bachmann!
    Swiss banks do not open bank accounts for Swiss nationals residing in the US anymore. They even force Swiss people living the US, to withdraw their deposits from accounts established long ago. This happened to my son, who is living in the US (Doppelbürger CH/US). He had forgotten his kid’s account (Jugendsparbüchlein) with some hundred CHF, which we had established for him over 40 years ago at the Aargauische Kantonalbank. This account was listed under “verschollene Kunden”. When he contacted AKB for reusing this account, he was told to withdraw his money immediately.
    To be Swiss can have drawbacks, at least when it comes to banks.
    By the way, other European Banks start doing the same.

    I love your book

    • diccon Thursday May 10th, 2012 at 04:41 PM · Reply

      I agree! and thanks for the interesting points about your son’s experience.

      PS any relation? Are you also a Thurgauer Bachmann? 🙂

  2. Pascal Thursday May 10th, 2012 at 04:38 PM · Reply

    The reason apparently is that she got married in 1978 when the Swiss law was much more liberal (no pun intended) on the citizenship of spouses. Then, a spouse would become automatically a Swiss citizen when the husband was Swiss.

    The law was later changed to stop that automatism, but she apparently still gets to profit from it since she married before the law changed. Her husband actually always had the right to become a Swiss citizen because his parents were Swiss (they emigrated from Switzerland to the USA).

    But the thought of her immigrating in Switzerland or -god forbid- running for a political mandate here nauseates me.

    • diccon Thursday May 10th, 2012 at 04:40 PM · Reply

      But her husband wasn’t Swiss when they married. I can understand the rule if he had been, but to backdate it seems so odd.

      • Patrick Friday May 11th, 2012 at 04:20 AM · Reply

        If I understand it correctly, he was “in theory” Swiss from birth because both his parents were Swiss citizens (wherever in the world you are born, if your parents are Swiss citizens, you are automatically a Swiss citizen, too), only not registered – so, he didn’t really have to apply for Swiss citizenship, but only to “activate” it, so to speak.

        • diccon Friday May 11th, 2012 at 08:04 AM · Reply

          Even so, she can’t claim that she’s been Swiss since 1978. Only in theory.

        • diccon Saturday May 12th, 2012 at 10:11 AM · Reply

          it’s the same for gay couples. you have to register your civil partnership and then wait five years – together in Switzerland, of course.

      • diccon Friday May 11th, 2012 at 08:05 AM · Reply

        another 5 years before I can apply, then the process takes about another 18 months. so 2019!

        • diccon Saturday May 12th, 2012 at 10:14 AM · Reply

          12 years and then you can apply, and the application then takes up to two years (if you’re not doing it through marriage). Bloody ages!
          Sorry about the lack of the tick box. The new layout doesn’t have one in its template. I’ll try and work out how to add one in manually.

  3. diccon Thursday May 10th, 2012 at 04:42 PM · Reply

    I guess it would be Returned to Sender

  4. Philippe Branco Thursday May 10th, 2012 at 08:42 PM · Reply

    Based on that could Steve Ballmer get Basel-Land citizenship (his dad is from Basel-Land). :-))

  5. Teela Hammond Thursday May 10th, 2012 at 11:09 PM · Reply Apparently she doesn’t want to be Swiss? Maybe this was all just a publicity stunt to show how ‘American’ she is?

    • diccon Friday May 11th, 2012 at 08:06 AM · Reply

      sad thing is, it makes the Swiss citizenship process look stupid and easy – and it’s neither. How to undermine it in one week!

      • Teela Hammond Friday May 11th, 2012 at 10:03 AM · Reply

        Yes it is definitely not stupid or easy in the least!! Just staying longer than a tourist can be very difficult let alone trying for citizenship.

  6. Robert Bachmann Friday May 11th, 2012 at 03:15 PM · Reply

    we are Luzerner Bachmanns (family tree going back to seventeenth century) – another world compared with Thurgau! (far out in the east somewhere)

  7. Barbara Ann Bush (Buchschacher) Saturday March 1st, 2014 at 09:54 PM · Reply

    My brother-in-law has Swiss citizenship, as does my cousin and her husband…none of them speak any of the national languages. My sister has citizenship, like I do, so she went through the process for her husband. They both live here in the US. My cousin had Swiss citizenship because her dad was from Switzerland. Her husband now has it too because she helped him get it. He is American and they both live here. We are all, of course, White. So when I hear my family, who fully supported my brother-in-law and my cousin’s husband getting their citizenship, talk about how immigrants should by and large be not naturalized I am blown away. I have met many immigrants in Switzerland…some speak German and some some don’t, some speak French, some don’t and so on…but they all live their and pay their taxes and in some cases have been born and raised in Switzerland. It seems unfair. I love my brother-in-law and my cousin’s husband, but I resent in some ways that they have Swiss citizenship and only have a surface understanding of the country and no language skills. They playfully joke about their citizenship, clearly proud of the image of a dual citizenship while secundos linger. I know that this is a difficult topic and I am as sentimental about “Swissness” as the next, but the process seems inherently unfair…to a point, racist. As far as the banks go, this has been a fiasco for me. As a dual citizen who has always had a Swiss account, I was recently was told (2010) by my bank in Switzerland (where I had very minimal funds…all of which was Swiss money) that I would need to either let the US tax my account or I should pull my money. They also told me that if I pulled my money that there would be no other kind of account for me to open, that they no longer do business with Swiss nationals who have dual citizenship with the US. What I had was so little that even the Swiss government didn’t tax it, but the US taxes would have drained it eventually…because I so rarely add to it. So frustrating. I understand the perspective from the Swiss side on this one.

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