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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

EXPLAINED: How to fast track permanent residency in Switzerland

For many foreign residents, permanent residency can bring about many benefits to daily life in Switzerland and eventually pave your way to Swiss citizenship. Here’s a step-by-step guide to fast tracking your Swiss permanent residency.

Want to put your Swiss residency permit in the fast lane? Follow these steps. Image: Pixabay
Want to put your Swiss residency permit in the fast lane? Follow these steps. Image: Pixabay

Whether you want to stay in Switzerland forever or will move home at some point, permanent residency can make things a whole lot easier. 

Here’s how you can get on the fast track. 

Overview of the C Permit

The ‘Settled Foreign Nationals’ C permit is typically granted to nationals of EU and EFTA countries after a period of five years in Switzerland. For all other foreign residents (with the exception of US and Canadian nationals), permanent residency is only available after having lived in Switzerland for ten interrupted years.

This may seem like a long stretch. However, residents who are able to prove they are successfully integrated and fulfil the necessary requirements are able to speed up the process and apply for an early C permit after five years.

The permit offers many perks especially for those who have plans to stay in Switzerland long-term. For one, you only need to renew your permit every five years.

You can also ‘freeze’ your C permit if you move abroad, change jobs and live in every canton without restrictions. With this permit, you don’t need to seek permission when buying property. However, it doesn’t give you the right to vote at the federal level. 

Important to note here is that it is up to applicants to proactively request a C permit themselves. Foreign residents can request this on their B permit renewal forms or by asking canton authorities directly. In terms of paperwork, a Swiss immigration lawyer can assist in this step. 

Applicants should expect to receive a first response after three to four weeks, according to Adrian Tüscher, head of global employment and immigration services at KPMG. However, the overall process should not take longer than three months and the authority should proactively provide feedback in case of missing documents or information. 

EXPLAINED: What’s the difference between permanent residence and Swiss citizenship?

How important is integration?

“Integration is today, the key element on top of the needed years of regular and uninterrupted residence with a B permit,” stresses Ara Samuelian, head of immigration at PwC. “Indeed, since 2018 Switzerland has inserted integration criteria in its foreign national law. This change is the consequence of the famous voting of Swiss citizens that happened in 2014 against mass immigration.” 

Factors which fall under this umbrella of successful integration may include: observance of public safety and order, respect for the values of the Federal Constitution, and not being reliant on social welfare. Experts also stressed the importance of attaching a letter of motivation that detailed involvement in local sport or cultural clubs, associations or volunteering work.

When it comes to participation in economic life, a stable employment situation is essential. “You cannot apply if you find yourself unemployed and receiving unemployment benefits, as you are not qualified as being well-integrated into the local economy,” says Alexa Mossaz, immigration specialist at Legal Expat Switzerland. 

“If you are self-employed, you must be able to demonstrate that your company is contributing to the local economy by providing a copy of the commercial register extract and the most recent balance sheet. A short business plan detailing the nature of the business should also be joined, with the projection of revenues over the next three years.”

She also adds that having claimed unemployment benefits in the past would not affect the application. 

Reader question: What does being ‘successfully integrated’ in Switzerland mean?

What language skills are needed?

Generally speaking, it is expected that applicants have reached a B1 level of speaking and listening skills and A1 in written skills of the language spoken in the canton of residence. This should come from a recognised list of language certificates.

However, cantons can (and a number do) specifically require higher oral and written language levels in case of an anticipated C permit application, according to Tüscher. Knowledge of other official Swiss languages outside the place of domicile aren’t factored in. 

READ MORE: Switzerland introduces new rules for language proficiency certificates

How does the process vary from canton to canton?

Experts we contacted agreed that most cantons have different procedures and waiting times for the early C permit process. “In cantons such as Geneva and Vaud, such procedures can take up to one year due to administrative delays,” says Mossaz. 

Meanwhile, the approximate processing time for cantons such as Lucerne and Basel-Land is about three months. Many of these cantonal authorities may request a personal appearance at the office rather than a mere mail application. 

What else to watch out for?

Other general tips we received were that residency gaps of more than six months spent outside of Switzerland would affect the five-year requirement for the B permit.

A student holding a temporary permit would also need to find employment and transform this into a B work permit for at least two years before applying for a C permit. 

And should a parent be staying at home to take care of their children with no employment to show, they would need to prove that their financial situation is stable through the working spouse, according to Mossaz. 

Nevertheless, there isn’t a time crunch. Tüscher says that the early C permit can be applied anytime after the five-year threshold is met. In case the permit is turned down, the authorities would simply extend the existing B permit (provided those requirements are still met). 

Maintaining the C permit

Even after securing a C permit, it’s important to know how to keep it. 

Some of the reasons for a rejection or revocation of a C permit could include an entry in the criminal

records due to a severe penal action (a speeding fine would not fall under that), social welfare dependency or an excessive debt enforcement track record, according to Tüscher. 

Authorities also have the power to revoke the settlement permit for those who leave Switzerland for longer than six months. To combat this, it is best to apply for a temporary suspension early on. This entitles you to live in another country for four years while keeping the C permit on hold. 

For more in-depth information on navigating work permits in Switzerland, check out our coverage here:

READ MORE: Nine things you need to know about work permits in Switzerland

EXPLAINED: What’s the difference between permanent residence and Swiss citizenship?

EXPLAINED: When and how should you renew your Swiss residence permit?

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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

Do foreigners in Switzerland have the same legal rights as the Swiss ?

Foreigners living in Switzerland may be wondering what their basic rights are compared to Swiss citizens. The answer depends on several factors.

Do foreigners in Switzerland have the same legal rights as the Swiss ?

There are currently 2.2 million foreign nationals living in Switzerland — roughly 25 percent of the population.

Simply put, everyone residing in the country legally, regardless of nationality, has the same basic constitutional rights as Swiss citizens do — for instance, the right to human dignity, free expression, equality, protection against discrimination, and freedom of religion, among other rights.

They also have the right to fair and equitable treatment in the workplace, in terms of wages, work hours, and other employment-related matters.

As the law states, cantons and municipalities “shall create favourable regulatory conditions for equal opportunities and for the participation of the foreign population in public life”. 

If they are arrested or imprisoned, foreigners also have the right to fair trial and to the same treatment as their Swiss-citizen counterparts, including legal representation and due process of the law.

Even those who are subject to deportation have the right to be represented by a lawyer.

And the Swiss legal system doesn’t necessarily favour Swiss litigants over foreign ones. For instance, in some cases, foreign nationals whose request for naturalisation was denied but who then appealed the decision, eventually won.

The most recent example is a man in the canton of Schwyz whose application for citizenship was rejected due to a minor car accident, but a Swiss court overturned the decision, ordering that the man be naturalised this year.

READ MORE : Foreigner wins appeal after being denied Swiss citizenship due to car accident

Where the rights and privileges differ between foreigners and Swiss, as well as among foreigners themselves, is when it comes to work and residency rights.

 EU / EFTA nationals

People from these countries, who have B or C permanent residence status have sweeping rights in terms of residence, employment (including self-employment), and home ownership.

The only right that is denied them is the vote, though some cantons and communes grant their resident foreigners the right to vote on local issues and to elect local politicians. 

READ MORE : Where in Switzerland can foreigners vote?

Apart from the limit on political participation, EU / EFTA nationals can live in Switzerland in pretty much the same way as their Swiss counterparts.

There are, however, some groups of foreigners whose rights are curtailed by the Swiss government.

Third country nationals

They are people from countries outside Europe, for whom various restrictions are in place in terms of entry, employment and residency.

For instance, their “future employer must prove that there is no suitable person to fill the job vacancy from Switzerland or from an EU/EFTA state”, according to State Secretariat for Migration. This could be seen as a discrimination of sorts, but that’s what the law says.

Once employed, however, “their salary, social security contributions and the terms of employment must be in accordance with conditions customary to the region, the profession and the particular sector” — in other words, no discrimination is allowed.

Another area where non-European foreigners are disadvantaged in comparison with their EU / EFTA counterparts is home ownership. While third-nation B-permit holders can buy a property to live in (but not rent out), they can’t purchase a holiday or second home without a special permission.

To sum up, all foreigners in Switzerland, regardless of their status, are entitled to fundamental “human” rights, including freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from discrimination in life and employment.

They also have the right to legal protection and representation during litigation or other court actions.

However they don’t have the right to participate in the country’s political process and, depending on their status, have equal access to residency and employment.

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