Stricter language and integration requirements for work permits Since 1 January 2020, applicants for certain work permits in Switzerland are required to provide a
language certificate from a certified language school to prove their language skills. The stricter language requirements in particular apply to foreign residents intending to take up gainful employment in Switzerland and their spouses and children who are joining their families. This article is intended to give an overview of the current legal situation.
Employment News No. 42 March 2020
By Ueli Sommer Dr. iur., LL.M., Attorney at Law Partner Phone +41 58 658 55 16 [email protected]
and Nadine Mder MLaw, Attorney at Law Phone +41 58 658 56 31 [email protected]
Foreign residents intending to take up gainful employment in Switzerland must meet certain integration requirements. By means of an amendment of the provisions in the FNIA (Foreign Nationals and Integration Act) and its ordinances, the integration criteria, in particular the language requirements for obtaining a work permit, have been specified in more detail. The new integration requirements for foreign nationals have been in force since 1 January 2019. Since 1 January 2020, applicants for certain work permits in Switzerland are required to provide a language certificate from a certified language school to prove their language skills.
Who is affected?
Anyone wishing to work in Switzerland requires a work permit. The requirements for language skills depend, inter alia, on the status of foreign nationals and the type of permit they apply for. The more rights are associated with their status in Switzerland, the higher the language requirements defined by law.
As a general rule, foreign nationals who are permitted to pursue gainful employment in Switzerland are first granted a short-term residence permit (L permit) or a residence permit (B permit). As a general rule, a work permit is only issued to employees who are highly qualified, i.e. managers, specialists and other qualified workers. In addition, the admission of employees from third countries is subject to quotas.
L permits are generally issued for temporary work assignments of up to one year. B permits can be applied for by foreign nationals who provide proof of unlimited employment. First-time B permits are generally limited to one year and may be renewed if certain criteria are met. A permanent residence permit (C permit) is only issued after a certain period of residence in Switzerland (usually after an uninterrupted stay of ten years).
What are the new language requirements for work permit applicants?
Foreign nationals should be able to communicate in the language spoken in the region of Switzerland in which they intend to live and work. Thus, applicants
for certain work permits must prove minimum language skills. Applicants who do not meet these requirements will not be granted a work permit. Since these are minimum legal requirements, the cantons are generally free to impose stricter language requirements for granting permits. So far, the cantons tend to refrain from going beyond the minimum legal language requirements.
Application for and renewal of a shortterm permit (L permit)
No special language skills are required for L permit applicants (limited to 12 months, exceptionally extended to max. 24 months). The same applies to their family members.
Application for and renewal of a residence permit (B permit)
Persons who benefit from the provisions in the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) (and their joining family members), i.e. EU/EFTA nationals, are not required to prove any language skills.
For non-EU-nationals, the competent authorities must take into consideration the degree of integration of third-country nationals before issuing and extending B permits. B permit applicants are required to meet certain professional qualification criteria as well as language skills which are expected to show a sustainable integration in Switzerland. In the context of an increasingly globalized labour market, a good knowledge of, for example, English, may be sufficient for a highly qualified specialist to meet the criteria of sustaina-
Employment News No. 42 March 2020
ble integration in Switzerland. Thus, the competent authorities may waive the proof of language requirement when granting work permits to executives and specialists in an international environment.
After the dissolution of a marriage or family community (after three years of marriage and good integration), applicants must meet the language proficiency of at least the A1 level orally in order to be granted an extension of their B permits.
Foreign nationals willing to work as caretakers or teachers in Switzerland must be able to communicate in the language spoken at the place of work, i.e. they must meet the language proficiency of at least level B1 orally and A1 in writing.
Foreign spouses of C permit holders or B permit holders must register for a language training course which leads to the attainment of at least language level A1 orally in the language spoken at the place of residence and work before entering Switzerland (if their oral language skills have not yet reached the primary level A1). Entry into Switzerland is only granted on condition that a language certificate attesting oral language skills of at least A1-level will provided within one year of entry. When seeking renewal of their B permit, spouses must furnish proof that they can communicate in the language spoken at their place of residence and work, i.e. have reached at least the primary level A1.
In order for spouses of temporarily admitted persons and temporarily admitted refugees to join and be included in the temporary admission, they must meet the language proficiency of at least A1-level orally.
There are no minimum language requirements for the permission of unmarried children under the age of 18 to join their families.
Application for and renewal of a permanent residence permit (C permit)
After 10 years of uninterrupted residence in Switzerland (regular application), applicants will only be granted a permanent residence permit if they are able to provide evidence of abilities of at least A2-level language skills orally and A1-level language skills in writing in the language spoken at their place of residence and work.
Early applications after 5 years of uninterrupted residence in Switzerland are conditional on a demonstration of adequate language proficiencyof at least B1-level orally and A1-level in writing).
Renewals of C permits after a stay abroad are conditional on a demonstration of adequate language proficiency of at least A2-level orally and A1-level in writing.
Foreign spouses of Swiss citizens or of C permit holders after 5 years of marriage must prove that they have sufficient language skills, i.e. they must have reached at least level A2 orally and A1 in writing.
Children under 12 years of age of Swiss nationals are entitled to a C permit and do not need to prove their language skills. However, children who are older than 12 years at the time of application must meet the same time-related and personal requirements for being granted of a C permit as foreign spouses.
The granting of a C permit to EU/EFTA nationals is also governed by the provisions of the FNIA and its ordinances. Thus, as a general rule, EU/EFTA nationals are equally required to prove the aforementioned language skills in order to be granted or extend their C permits.
However, persons from the following countries are not obligated to prove language skills to obtain a C permit due to bilateral residence agreements with Switzerland: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Portugal and Italy.
How to provide evidence of language skills
Proof of the required language skills may be furnished as follows:
The applicants confirm that they speak and write the language spoken at the place of residence and work as their mother tongue;
The applicants prove that they have undergone compulsory schooling or that they have completed an education in the language spoken at the place of residence and work;
The applicants provide a language certificate from a certified language school which proofs the required language skills.
In practice, proof of language can be provided by presenting the so-called "language passport" or a language certificate from TELC, Goethe, OSD, TestDaF or fide, among others. There are currently no recognized language examinations for Romansh (spoken by people in the canton of Graubnden).
In the event of particular hardship, the authorities may waive the requirement for proof of language skills if there are important reasons such as illness or disability (e.g. dyslexia or illiteracy).
Further integration criteria
Within the framework of the revised FNIA, besides greater emphasis on language skills, more importance is attached to the remaining integration criteria, i.e. participation in the economic or educational system, respect for the values of the Federal Constitution and observance of public safety and order. In particular, foreign nationals should be able to provide a clean criminal record extract as well as a clean extract from the debt collection register and they should not be recipients of social assistance. In this context, the competent authorities have the option of concluding a so-called integration agreement when granting and
Employment News No. 42 March 2020
extending work permits and in the case of family reunification. In this case, the conclusion of an integration agreement constitutes a condition for the granting or extension of the permit.
Persons who do not comply with an integration agreement without legitimate reasons may have their B permit either withdrawn or renewal may be refused. In addition, a C permit can be downgraded and replaced by a B permit if the integration criteria are not met. The renewal of a C permit following a downgrade can only be sought after five years and if adequate language proficiency of at least A2-level orally and A1-level in writing is provided.
The Walder Wyss Newsletter provides comments on new developments and significant issues of Swiss law. These comments are not intended to provide legal advice. Before taking action or relying on the comments and the information given, addressees of this Newsletter should seek specific advice on the matters which concern them.
Walder Wyss Ltd., Zurich, 2020
Outlook and recommendations
The cantons are responsible for issuing permits. In addition, the approval of the Confederation is required. The new integration provisions have been in force for a relatively short time. Only practice will show how severely the authorities will handle integration and language skills requirements. The cantons may issue directives which would need to be consulted on a case-by-case basis.
Before entering Switzerland, it is advisable to clarify in advance which documents are required in order to be granted a work permit and, in particular, whether a language certificate or registration for a language course must be provided.