The Swiss government has decided to immediately implement three new measures aimed at restricting access to welfare for non-European nationals, and develop three further steps over the next 13 months.
The immediate steps, which do not require legislation changes, include a regular analysis of benefits paid to third-country citizens by the Federal Statistical Office; approval by the State Secretariat for Migration for extensions of residence permits for non-EU nationals who incur substantial welfare costs; and the federal government working closely with cantons to coordinate social aid.
The remaining measures cover the integration conditions required for a residence permit for foreigners admitted provisionally in cases of hardship; simplification of the revocation process of the establishment permit in the event of over-dependence on social assistance; as well as the restriction of benefits granted to holders of a permit during their first three years in Switzerland.
The move follows a decision taken in June 2017 by the Council of States to look into legal measures the Swiss government could take to restrict or even block access to welfare benefits for third country nationals.
In June 2019 the council approved a report that instructed the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP) to look into appropriate measures. On January 15th 2020 the Swiss government decided to push ahead with the six measures.
The highest percentage of foreign citizens in Switzerland who receive social aid are from the so called ‘third’ nations — countries, which don’t belong to either the EU or EFTA (Norway and Iceland).
While citizens from these countries constitute only about 7 percent of the Swiss population, a disproportionally large number receive welfare payments.
Official figures show that 30 percent of immigrants from Africa are on social aid, and 12 percent of people from Asia and South America also receive public assistance.
By comparison, only 2 percent of Swiss citizens and 3 percent of EU nationals get benefits.
In November 2018, Swiss voters approved a controversial measure allowing the so-called ‘social detectives’ to spy on recipients of benefits who had been suspected of abusing the system.