What is the change? The Swiss Federal Council has approved a package of measures that will impose new language and cultural integration criteria on foreign nationals seeking residence permits.

What does the change mean? Residence applicants may be required to sign an integration agreement and fulfill language and cultural integration coursework demonstrating the appropriate level of proficiency. Additionally, authorities may downgrade a C residence permit or revoke a B residence permit if the individual does not fulfill the integration agreement.

  • Implementation time frame: Jan. 1, 2019. A one-year transition period allows language skills to be proven with a certificate from other than an officially recognized language institute.
  • Visas/permits affected: B (temporary residence) and C (permanent residence) permits. The measures do not affect short-stay (L) permits or 120-day permits based on online notification.
  • Who is affected: Non-EU/EFTA nationals seeking residency in Switzerland. The language requirements will also affect EU citizens in some circumstances within the bilateral agreement on the free movement of people.
  • Business impact: Foreign employees and their family members will need to invest additional time and resources to satisfy new integration criteria in order to obtain or renew their residence permits.
  • Next steps: Migration authorities are expected to release guidance later this year that will provide greater detail on how the language and integration requirements will be implemented.

Background: The Federal Council approved the measures Aug. 15. Integration agreements will contain criteria for language skills, participation in work or education, respect for the Swiss constitution and adherence to public safety and order. Authorities may condition the issuance or renewal of residence permits upon the applicant’s signing of an integration agreement.

Language criteria are as follows:

  • Permanent residence C permits based on 10 years of residency will require A2 level in oral language and A1 level in written language skills.
  • Permanent residence C permits based on five years of residency will require a B1 level in oral and A1 level in written language. Current law requires an oral language level of A2.
  • Extension of B residence permits will require an A1 level or equivalent in oral language of the place of residence.
  • B residence permits based on family reunification will require an A1 or equivalent oral skills in the language of the place of residence. Proof of a language course demonstrating proficiency at the A1 level may be required if language skills are lacking.
  • Spouses and registered partners of Swiss citizens and of C permanent residents will be required to meet integration requirements including A2 level in oral language and A1 level in written language. Current law allows them to obtain a C permanent residence permit after five years of continuous presence.

BAL Analysis: Switzerland recently tightened eligibility criteria for citizenship applicants, and the new measures intend to improve the integration of foreign residents. Employers and foreign nationals should be aware of the upcoming changes and factor in the additional language and integration requirements when planning long-term assignments in Switzerland.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group and our network provider located in Switzerland. For additional information, please contact your BAL attorney.

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