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.
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
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).