Voters in Switzerland have taken to the polls to cast their ballots in a referendum on whether or not to facilitate citizenship processes for third-generation immigrants in the Central European country.
The “simplified naturalization of third-generation immigrants” measure is expected to pass in the Sunday referendum with the aim of making it easier for anyone who is under 25 and whose parents and grandparents have lived in Switzerland for years to become Swiss citizens.
Less than 25,000 people in Switzerland currently qualify as third-generation immigrants, of whom nearly 60 percent are Italians, and the rest are with origins in the Balkans and of Turkish descent, according to a migration department study.
Political parties and the government in Bern have thrown their weight behind the proposal, which allows the grandchildren of immigrants to skip several steps in the lengthy process of securing a Swiss passport.
The move comes as the right-wing anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party (SPV) pushes to cloud the Sunday plebiscite with a campaign marred by anti-Muslim messages and charges of religious prejudice.
Sophie Guignard of the Institute of Political Science at the University of Bern said the debate on the proposal never concerned religion at the beginning. However, she said, it was the SVP that gave the debate a religious tinge.
Latest opinion polls show a 66-percent support for easier citizenship processes, while 31 percent are opposed to the proposal, and the remaining three percent undecided.
Switzerland is not a member of the 28-country European Union (EU), but it is part of Europe’s passport-free Schengen area.
Europe has been facing an unprecedented influx of refugees, who are fleeing conflict-hit zones in North Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria.