Effective 1 January 2019 the revised Swiss Federal Act on Foreign Nationals and Integration (FNIA) was enacted. One of the most remarkable changes is the new language requirement for Swiss residence permit holders or applicants.
In a nutshell, the new law provides for a certain level of integration in Switzerland as a prerequisite for obtaining and retaining a Swiss permit.
To measure the level of integration, authorities may ask for evidence including but not limited to proof of official Swiss language skills.
Non-Swiss nationals applying for a C-permit were previously already subject to language requirements (with only a few exceptions). The concrete requirements, however, used to be subject to cantonal authority practice. Thus, local differences applied (e.g. regarding the required language level).
The revised law provides for:
All non-Swiss nationals* can be affected by the new law in principle.
The new language requirements may affect the following persons in particular:
Regular application (after 10 years of uninterrupted residency in Switzerland):
Applicants need to at least meet an oral language level of A2 and a written language level of A1 in the official language of their Swiss place of residence.
Early application (after 5 years of uninterrupted residency in Switzerland):
Applicants need to at least meet an oral language level of B1 and a written language level of A1 in the official language of their Swiss place of residence.
As the above language levels are minimum requirements, the individual cantons may raise the language requirements in their own discretion.
As per the revised law, dependents of non-EU nationals with non-EU nationality aged 18 or over who apply for a B-permit must be able to demonstrate either:
Caution: These new requirements apply to:
The Swiss immigration authorities have not yet established a consistent practice throughout all Swiss cantons.
As an example, the canton of Zurich requires currently a language diploma in case of an application for an extension only if the B-permit was originally issued after the effective date of the revised FNIA (1 January 2019).
It is highly recommended to clarify the requirements on a case-by-case basis with the canton of residence.
In case of non-compliance with the new law, individuals may be required to conclude an “integration agreement” setting standards for the level of integration they are expected to reach and the measures to be taken in order to reach this level.
C-permit holders who do not meet the required language skills and/or fail to comply with an integration agreement may be relegated to a temporary residence status (B-permit).
B-permit holders not complying with an integration agreement may lose their right to stay in Switzerland.
Foreigners with a Swiss national language as their mother tongue will be considered to have adequate knowledge of a Swiss national language. The same applies for foreigners who have completed three years of compulsory schooling in a Swiss national languag
As of 1 January 2020 the language certificate must be obtained from one of the following accredited institutions. See the list here.
* Exceptions only apply where unrestricted residence rights are explicitly provided for in an international treaty.