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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Work permits: Switzerland introduces new rules for language proficiency certificates

Starting in January 2020 applicants for certain work permits in Switzerland need to provide certificates from government-accredited institutions to prove their language proficiency.

Work permits: Switzerland introduces new rules for language proficiency certificates
FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

A new law introduce 2019 made a certain level of integration a prerequisite for obtaining and retaining a Swiss permit.

That meant authorities could ask for proof of language proficiency.

While C permit applicants have been subject to language requirements in the past the 2019 law harmonized (minimum) language requirements throughout Switzerland for C-permit applications.

It also introduced language requirements for certain B-permit applicants, notably family members of non-EU nationals.

But since January 1st, C permit applicants and dependents of non-EU nationals applying for B permit applicants have been required to obtain certified language certificates from a government-accredited institution to prove that they have sufficient language skills to communicate with ease in at least one of the Swiss national languages.

The difference in 2020 is that throughout 2019 applicants were able to produce certificates from non-accredited language schools but since the start of the New Year the regulation has tightened. You can see the official list HERE.

READ ALSO: Are new language tests putting people off applying for Swiss citizenship?

The new requirement for certified language certificate is part of the revised Swiss Federal Act on Foreign Nationals and Integration, which was enacted on January 1st, 2019.

That law meant those dependents applying for B permit (which are long-term permits normally granted for stays exceeding 24 months) and those applying for C permits (permanent residence) would have to prove language efficiency. 

Exceptions to the 2019 language proficiency requirement were made for those whose native language is German, French or Italian, as well as foreigners who have completed primary or secondary school in one of the three languages, even if the school was outside Switzerland.

Foreigners have been warned to allow for more time to complete language courses and obtain the necessary qualification when submitting residency applications.

The new rules were designed to harmonise the language requirements for residency across Switzerland rather than the previous situation where different cantons had different rules.

Those who fail to meet the language requirements have been warned they could face consequences for example C permit holders could lose their permanent residency status and have their permit downgraded to B, which would shorten the time they are allowed to remain in Switzerland.

They would also lose certain tax advantages and may have to wait five years before they reapply for a C permit.

 

 

 

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ZURICH

EXPLAINED: How Zurich has simplified the Swiss citizenship process

Voters in the Swiss canton of Zurich on May 15th approved a proposal to simplify naturalisation requirements for the canton's 350,000 foreigners. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How Zurich has simplified the Swiss citizenship process

On May 15th, voters in the Swiss canton of Zurich overwhelmingly approved a proposal to simplify the canton’s naturalisation process for foreigners. 

Several questions were on the ballot, including reduced fees for younger people who pursue Swiss citizenship, longer waiting times for those convicted of criminal offences and a shift towards online naturalisation. A summary of the results can be seen here

For foreigners living in Zurich and wanting to acquire the famous red passport, perhaps the most important question on the ballot was making the requirements uniform on a cantonal basis, rather than allowing them to differ from municipality to municipality, as is the current case. 

Here’s what you need to know. Please note that while Zurich voters approved the changes, as at May 16th they have not been formally implemented. 

‘Uniform basic requirements’ for citizenship flagged

While anyone who is successfully naturalised will get the same famous red passport no matter where they do so, the actual process differs dramatically depending on where you do it. 

The primary naturalisation process takes place at a communal level, which means there can be different requirements from municipality to municipality. 

With 26 cantons, four official languages and century after century of tradition, these traditions and cultural quirks have had plenty of time to ferment and develop. 

As The Local has covered several times before, this includes a knowledge test about specifics in the local commune which often leads to absurd consequences, while in some places local villagers and neighbours will have a say on whether a person should receive citizenship. 

People have been knocked back for a range of reasons, including not liking hiking, not knowing enough about local zoo animals, not knowing enough about cheese and just not being deserving enough.  

READ MORE: The ten most surprising questions on Switzerland’s citizenship exam

Recognising the difficulties, the Swiss government in 2018 revised the Civil Rights Act, which included uniform basic requirements for citizenship. 

The cantons however retain a degree of flexibility when it comes to implementing the rules, which is why they are being put to a vote on May 15th. 

Basic knowledge test

Each naturalisation process includes a basic knowledge test. 

The tests are carried out at a municipal level and vary from place to place, prompting Swiss national broadcaster SRF to report in 2017 that Switzerland “has as many naturalisation procedures as there are municipalities”. 

Zurich, Switzerland’s most populous canton, has 162 municipalities. While it might be a slight exaggeration to say there are 162 unique tests, the questions can vary greatly. 

The May 15th vote standardised the process by establishing a basic knowledge test for the entire canton. 

The test includes 350 questions about Swiss history, tradition, politics and culture, with a focus on Zurich. 

Anyone taking the test will be given 50 questions at random and must answer at least 30 correctly to pass. 

What other requirements were up for a vote on May 15th?

In addition to the above, there are three other changes forecast as part of the new rules. 

People under 18 will face tighter rules for naturalisation if they are found guilty of a crime. 

Referendum: Zurich to vote on lower voting age

According to the new law, juveniles will not be able to apply for naturalisation for two years after a minor crime (i.e. shoplifting, simple bodily harm, property damage) or for five years for major crimes (i.e. robbery, murder, rape). 

The changes will also lay the groundwork for naturalisation processes to take place online. A handful of cantons including Bern and Vaud already do this, but no such online system is established in Zurich. 

Finally, the law will also reduce the cost for younger people to apply for citizenship. 

More information is available here. 

What did the parties say before the vote?

Although polling was minimal, the changes have won widespread support among Swiss political parties. 

All of the major Swiss political parties support the change, with only the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) opposed. 

Writing in the Swiss press, the SVP’s Diego Bonato suggested multicultural Zurich should have tighter naturalisation rules than the rest of the country rather than the other way around to ensure proper integration. 

“The higher the multicultural proportion of the population, the more closely you have to pay attention to naturalisation” 

While the SVP is Switzerland’s largest and most popular political party, it has comparatively lower influence in Zurich. 

The Social Democrats, who hold the mayorship in the city, are in favour of the proposal and hit back at suggestions it did not promote integration. 

“The new citizenship law is shaped by the idea that early and rapid naturalisation promotes integration. However, citizenship should be the the end of successful integration, not the beginning.”

“Foreigners who wish to remain in our country permanently and become part of Swiss society must society, must (still) undergo an integration process lasting several years.”

Who was able to vote?

Much like Switzerland’s men taking until the 1970s to decide whether women should get the vote, it is perhaps a paradox that foreigners’ fates will be put to a vote without their input. 

Only Swiss citizens have the right to vote in the most cases, although there are limited voting rights in some cases at a municipal level in some parts of the country. 

Efforts to provide similar rights in Zurich have continued to stall. 

Around one quarter of Zurich’s population do not have the right to vote, although it can be as high as 50 percent in some municipalities. 

Approximately 1.5 million people live in Zurich. 

More information about voting in Zurich, including details about the upcoming referendum votes, can be found here. 

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