International treaties and the Swiss Federal Constitution guarantee the protection of family life. This fundamental right can give persons residing in Switzerland the right to bring foreign family members to Switzerland. Such family reunification should make life in the family circle possible. A distinction is made between family reunification by nationals of EU and EFTA Member States and family reunification by nationals of third countries.
Family reunification by nationals of EU and EFTA Member States
Nationals of a Member State of the EU and EFTA (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) are entitled under bilateral agreements to have their family members join them, provided they have accommodation which meets the normal local requirements (Art. 3(1) of Annex I of the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons ("FMPA")). Regardless of their nationality, the following persons are considered to be family members:
- relatives in the descending line (including stepchildren) who are not yet 21 years old or who are dependent on them, provided that they were already receiving support before the application for reunification;
- relatives in the ascending line who are supported or who live in a domestic household in the home country.
The competent authority of the home country must certify the relationship. Spouses and children under 21 years of age of a person with a right of residence have the right of access to gainful employment (Art. 2(5) Annex I FMPA). As a rule, reuniting spouses who are engaged in gainful employment have their own right of residence after the dissolution of the marriage.
Family reunification by nationals of third countries
Nationals of a so-called third country (i.e. a non-EU/EFTA state) can bring their children under 18 and their spouses to Switzerland. To do so, the person entitled to the family reunification must be able to prove that he or she has an established right of presence (Swiss citizenship or settlement permit). In addition, the family relationship must actually be genuine and intact, which is why the persons concerned must live together. If the person entitled to reunification does not have Swiss citizenship, the foreign spouse may not receive social assistance or supplementary benefits and must be able to communicate in the national language of the place of residence or at least be registered for a language course.
Family reunification by third-country nationals must be claimed within a period of five years. For children over 12 years of age, this period for family reunification is reduced to only one year. In the case of Swiss nationals, the periods begin with their entry or the establishment of the family relationship, and in the case of foreign nationals with the granting of a residence or settlement permit or the establishment of the family relationship. If these deadlines are not met, family reunification can only be granted for important reasons such as the welfare of the child.
Family members of third-country nationals who have joined their family may work, but must report this to the cantonal migration authorities. Children under the age of 12 are entitled to a settlement permit. In contrast, children over 12 years of age and spouses only receive a settlement permit after an uninterrupted stay of five years.
Swiss citizens who wish to bring their foreign spouses and children under the age of 18 to Switzerland are in principle subject to the same legal situation as third-country nationals. However, special legal requirements apply to further family members of Swiss citizens (relatives in the descending line who are under 21 years of age or who are dependent or relatives in the ascending line who are dependent). These rights do not confer the same rights on Swiss nationals as on nationals of EU Member States. More information on the parliamentary efforts to change this situation in order to ensure equal treatment of Swiss and EU nationals, can be found in our blog article on discrimination against nationals in family reunification (in German).