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Swiss cantons deporting foreigners on welfare

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12:34 CET+01:00

Increased information sharing between social services and immigration authorities in some Swiss cantons is leading to an increase in deportations, even in cases where no crime has been committed.

Cantons like Sankt Gallen, in the northwest of Switzerland, and Schwyz, in the centre of the country, have implemented cross-checks in their immigration services to catch foreigners on long-term social benefits and deport them, newspaper Tages Anzeiger reports.

In Sankt Gallen, there are around 90 such cases per year. Other cantons, like Zurich, do not keep statistics on the individual reasons for deportation and cannot offer any numbers. However, in both Zurich and in Schwyz, the Immigration Office has recruited additional staff in recent months specifically to deal with cases of this kind.

Since the Immigration Act was passed in 2008, social services are obliged to share with immigration authorities the names of foreign nationals who are receiving benefits.

Immigration law expert Marc Spescha cited a tougher political climate as a primary cause for the spike in deportations: "Many cantons practice a zero tolerance policy, and sometimes they lose their sense of proportion," he told Tages Anzeiger.

The Zurich-based newspaper reported on the case of a Turkish woman who moved to Switzerland in 2006 when she married a Turkish man already resident in the country. The woman was beaten by her husband for several years and left him shortly after the birth of their daughter in 2010. After their divorce came through, immigration authorities in Zurich decided to deport both woman and child since they were living solely on welfare benefits.

But not all cantons are taking such a hardline approach, Tages Anzeiger reported. In Basel city, only foreigners who refuse to cooperate with social authorities are deported. In the canton of Bern, foreigners very rarely risk losing their temporary residence permits renewed even if they are living exclusively on welfare benefits.

“In most cases, there are also additional reasons, such as crime,” Markus Aeschlimann, head of the Immigration Office, told the paper.

In the canton of Zurich, information sharing between social services and immigration authorities only started last autumn. Social services now notify the cantonal immigration office once the amount of benefits received by a foreigner reaches a certain level: 25,000 francs ($28,150) for temporary residents, and 40,000 francs ($45,000) for permanent residents.

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