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How Switzerland wants to cut welfare and boost integration for non-EU citizens

The Swiss government is developing a set of proposals to facilitate greater integration in the employment market for non-EU citizens, while also reducing the amount of money spent on social support payments.

People sit working on their laptops and talking around a wooden table
Switzerland plans to make it easier for foreigners to integrate into the job market, while also reducing social welfare contributions in the longer term. Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Non-EU citizens, also known as third-country nationals are significantly more at risk of becoming dependent on social assistance than the Swiss or citizens of EU or EFTA states, the government has said.

To counter this trend, the Federal Council is planning to introduce a series of measures to increase integration in the employment market among this target group and to reduce the increase in social assistance spending by cantons and municipalities.

At the same time, federal authorities also want to include an additional integration criterion in the Federal Law on Foreigners, focusing not only on the primary job / residence seeker, but the entire family as well.

While the focus will be on encouraging foreigners into the employment market, the government has promised no further changes to the existing framework regarding revoking visas for third-country nationals. 

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The term ‘third-country national’ is used by the Swiss government to refer to people outside of the EU or Schengen bloc. This term also includes British citizens given the UK has left the EU.

A range of proposals were opened up for consultation on May 26th. The consultation will run until May 3rd, 2022. 

‘Incentives for gainful employment’

The initial proposal seems to focus on providing additional support during a person’s first few years in order to facilitate integration, but reduce long-term support options so that foreigners do not become reliant. 

The Federal Council is seeking to introduce “a deeper support approach for third-country nationals in terms of social assistance during the first three years after being granted a short-stay or residence permit in Switzerland.”

READ MORE: Would you pass a Swiss citizenship test?

The government also wants to better examine how new foreigners are supported by their families when entering Switzerland before a settlement permit is granted. 

Specifically, the Federal Council said it wants to better clarify “whether and how foreigners support the integration of their wife or husband, their registered partner and any minor children and support.”

The government in 2021 expanded the Integration Apprenticeship program (German: Integrationsvorlehre, French: préapprentissage d’intégration) to family members from both EU and non-EU countries. 

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

Cantons can still revoke residence permits in the event of heavy reliance on social support.

The government also indicated it would not change the current framework for revoking residency permits if a person relies too heavily on social support. 

In a statement, the Federal Council indicated it had conducted an “in-depth examination” and concluded the current regulation is sufficient. 

Pursuant to the existing framework, “the cantons can revoke a settlement permit in the event of permanent and significant receipt of social assistance.”

READ MORE: How applying for social benefits could see your Swiss work permit cancelled

‘Slow down increases in social welfare costs’

As yet, the proposal does not provide specifics about how social welfare spending will be curbed, although it appears that there will be a greater focus on reducing dependence on longer term social support. 

Swiss data shows an increase in the amount of money spent on social assistance over the past decade. 

From 2010 to 2019, the amount of money spent in Switzerland on social assistance as a whole increased from CHF900 million to CHF2.8 billion. 

Note that this refers to all social assistance, not just that spent on non-EU foreigners. 

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Foreigners are more reliant on social assistance in Switzerland, with 8.8 percent of non-EU foreigners accessing social assistance compared to 2.3 percent of Swiss. 

EU or EFTA foreigners rely on social assistance at a similar rate to that of Swiss nationals (2.8 percent). 

More information about the program is available here in German and French. 

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Swiss organisation again calls for volunteers to scare wolves away

A Swiss organisation has once more called for volunteer shepherds to scare wolves away from sheep and other farm animals, including making 'wolf-scaring noises'.

Swiss organisation again calls for volunteers to scare wolves away

A series of wolf attacks against sheep and other farm animals have been reported in various cantons, particularly in the French-speaking part of the country. 

To keep this from happening, Vaud and Valais shepherds are training, in cooperation with the Organisation for the Protection of Alpine Pastures (OPPAL), a number of civilian volunteers to watch over herds of livestock at night, when wolves are most likely to pounce.

The approach is a more humane way to keep wolves at bay, say those who take part in the program. 

Véronique Marmet, an OPPAL volunteer, explained.

“I understand the problem of the wolf, that’s why I support this approach. We are more (interested) in the compromise than the fight.”

This is a continuation of a project launched by OPPAL in 2021, when trained volunteers were taught how to make wolf-scaring noises to keep predators at bay. 

The volunteers spent a total of 8,000 hours monitoring the mountain pastures in 2021. Their work paid off, as despite several wolf sightings, no attacks actually occurred. 

One hundred volunteers were found in 2021, with OPPAL looking to double that number this year. 

READ MORE: Swiss association seeks volunteers to scare wolves away at night

The topic of wolves is surprisingly political in Switzerland. 

In 2020, a narrow majority – 51.9 percent of Swiss voters – rejected a bid to change Swiss law which would have given cantons a greater degree of power to cull wolf populations in Switzerland. 

The wolf was completely wiped out in Switzerland in the mid-1980s but saw a resurgence, with an estimated 80 present in Switzerland as at 2019, most of which are in the French-speaking west of the country.