Swiss news site The Local reports that new laws taking effect this month will make it even more difficult for immigrants to obtain citizenship.
It has apparently been established law for some time that immigrants collecting social benefits are barred from naturalization. The new law, however, now also prohibits naturalization if an applicant has accepted social benefits at any time during the previous three years.
An exception is made if the benefits “are paid back in full.”
On the other hand, applicants for citizenship now must only have resided in Switzerland for ten years instead of 12, as was the case before the new law took effect.
It’s important to make a distinction here. The change in law is not saying the recipients on social welfare will be deported. It is merely closing them off from citizenship until they can demonstrate they do not require social assistance.
There is a difference here between residency and naturalization, and the two ought not to be confused. The state is quite flexible with legal residency. The rules for extending citizenship, though, are far more rigorous.
Indeed, Switzerland has a large number of foreign born residents, and its economy includes many immigrant workers.
Unlike many other nations, though, the Swiss recognize that the political system is distinct from the economic system, and admitting a migrant to the Swiss economic sphere does not necessarily mean the state must also grant access to the political sphere.
Moreover, in nearly all cases, immigrants residing in Switzerland have citizenship. They’re simply citizens somewhere else. (Swiss law specifically protects immigrant residents from deportation in case of statelessness.)
This is true everywhere, of course. Non-resident immigrants residing in the US, for example, are already citizens. They’re simply citizens somewhere else. This fact is confused by the usage of phrases like “illegal alien” or “undocumented worker” which ignore the actual citizenship status of these workers. In most cases, the term “foreign national” — which highlights the fact these people are not stateless — is really more useful than “illegal immigrant.”
After all, the “illegality” of an immigrant is a totally arbitrary status made up by by government bureaucrats, and is no more morally legitimate than the term “illegal drugs.” In both cases, the only difference between legal and illegal is some government paperwork.
On the other hand, there is no clear reason why foreign nationals residing anywhere ought to be given an easy path to citizenship, especially in cases where those residents rely on taxpayer funded services.
This position, by the way, need not violate the property rights of immigrant residents. After all, property rights exist everywhere, regardless of location, and a respect for property rights suggests that persons ought to be allowed to freely contract with others for employment, housing, and other goods — regardless of an arbitrary government decree of illegality.
In a 2017 column titled “Don’t Confuse Immigration with Naturalization,” I explore this topic further.
Preferably, access to the economic system is open to anyone with whom persons are willing to contract, whether they be employers, landlords, shopkeepers, and potential customers for new immigrant-owned businesses. Given that people tend to be quite open to economic ties with others, accessing the economic sphere has long been quite easy for immigrants to the United States. This is precisely because the economic sphere is relatively free and open in the US.
Granting access to the political sphere, however, opens up a variety of other problems, such as extending access to the ballot box, and encouraging the use of political power to enrich one’s self or one’s own group. This problem is hardly unique to immigrants, as I’ve explained here, but as the Swiss understand, restricting access to the political system in this case is often quite prudent. Thus, is makes sense to be open to migration, while being less open with the extension of citizenship privileges.
The ideal, of course, is to shrink the political sphere in such a way that citizenship ceases to be important. In a laissez faire economy where the state has only a tiny role in the regulation and ownership of property, then it would not be terribly important if one enjoys citizenship or not. The free exercise of one’s property rights would be assured regardless.
Ryan W. McMaken is the editor of Mises Daily and The Austrian. Send him mail.