As of January 1, 2019, Switzerland will introduce new language requirements for non-EU/EFTA citizens wishing to obtain a residence permit within the framework of family reunification. Family members of residence permit holders or of Swiss nationals need to either prove a cer-tain existing level of proficiency in the language spoken at their new Swiss domicile or enroll in a language course in order to prove their willingness to learn the respective language.
The Swiss Federal Act on Foreign Nationals (FNA) contains specific rules on family reunification. The foreign spouse and minor unmarried children of Swiss nationals or of persons with residence permits can obtain a residence permit if they fulfill certain requirements that vary depending on the scenario.
As of January 1, 2019, an additional requirement will be introduced to the grant and extension of residence permits for spouses of (permanent) residence permit holders and Swiss nationals. In addition to the existing conditions, spouses wishing to obtain or extend a residence permit must, in the future, also be able to communicate in the national language spoken at their Swiss residence or at least have signed up for or be taking part in a language course.
The applicant has to prove a level of proficiency equivalent to the A1 level of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. It is important to note that, in order to obtain or extend a residence permit, oral language skills are sufficient; the authorities will not test the written abilities of the applicant. Written skills equivalent to the A1 level and oral skills equivalent to the A2 level will only be necessary if the applicant seeks to obtain a permanent residence permit at a later stage. Moreover, unmarried children under 18 are excluded from this regulation; the additional language requirements do not apply to them.
The goal of the new provisions is to ensure the successful integration of spouses who accompany their partners to Switzerland. As the aim of integration only makes sense for people staying in Switzerland for a longer time, the new regulation does not apply to spouses of persons with a short stay permit (granted for limited periods of up to one year). This raises the question whether the authorities will also apply the new requirements strictly to spouses of workers who are assigned to Switzerland for limited periods exceeding one year. Furthermore, it is not yet clear how the authorities will test the language skills in case the applicant has not enrolled in a language course. A directive by the State Secretariat for Migration expected to be rendered on January 1, 2019 should answer these questions and further clarify the authorities' practice regarding the new provisions.
In any event, a case-by-case assessment is crucial in order to guarantee a smooth execution of the application process.