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Swiss immigration: new language requirements

  • Adrian Tüscher, Partner |

Swiss immigration – beware of new language requirements!

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.

What’s new?

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:

  • Harmonized (minimum) language requirements throughout Switzerland for C-permit applications
  • Language requirements for (some) B-permit applicants

Who’s affected?

All non-Swiss nationals* can be affected by the new law in principle.

The new language requirements may affect the following persons in particular:

  • Dependents of non-EU nationals with non-EU nationality aged at least 18 years applying for a B-permit or – depending on the original date of issuance and on the competent canton – an extension of a B-permit
  • All non-Swiss nationals applying for a C-permit (unless a treaty provides for an unreserved right to a C-permit)
     

What are the new requirements for C-permit applicants?

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.

What are the new requirements for B-permit applicants?

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:

  • Their speaking and writing skills in the language spoken in the region of Switzerland in which they live or intend to relocate to upon presentation of a language certificate (level: at least A1); or
  • That they are at least enrolled on a language course which will lead to acquisition of the above-mentioned language skills.

Caution: These new requirements apply to:

  • First-time B-permit applications and
  • B-permit extension applications or applications for conversion of L-permits to B-permits (depending on the initial date of entry and the Swiss canton in charge, cf. more details below).

Extension of B-permits

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.

Risks and sanctions

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.

Practical remarks

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.

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