New requirements relative to Integration in Switzerland have been added to existing Swiss Immigration legislation in January 2019. Linguistic competences are part of the aforementioned amendments and are detailed in the Foreigners National and Integration Act (hereinafter “FNIA” – art.58a).
In January 2020, the application of these new requirements was defined, establishing a detailed framework of action to grant an official character to language certificates.
Since the amendments applicable to the Foreigners Nationals and Integration Act relating to linguistic requirements entered into force in January 2019, the Federal Council had indicated that a transition period would apply until the end of the year, in order to allow cantonal immigration offices, and concerned foreigners to adjust. In that respect, concerned foreigners were allowed to take language certificates in various language schools, which would allow them to meet the legal requirement in this respect.
As this transition period has come to an end on January 1st, 2020, only the framework officially established by the Federal authorities will be recognized by the migration authorities.
Indeed, the integration of migrants has been an important political and social matter in Switzerland (art.4 FNIA). Communicating in one of the country’s official language appears to be a primary condition to a successful integration. In this respect, the only the attestation of linguistic skills that is recognized must be based on a test in accordance with defined international criteria, set by the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE), amongst others. These quality standards establish the criteria for procedure, organization and assessment of language tests.
Therefore, to certify the language skills of a foreigner, the State Secretariat for Migration (hereinafter “SEM”) has developed a certification procedure which is based on the FIDE program, an acronym for «Français, Italiano, Deutsch in Switzerland». This program successfully meets the ALTE quality standards, and in collaboration with the FIDE Secretariat, the SEM has set up different instruments to attest language competencies in a reliable way on levels, from A1 to – C2 level.
What is new: only recognized language tests are evidence of integration
Since January 2020, the foreigner that intends to integrate in Switzerland needs to evidence the fact that one of the national languages of Switzerland is mastered (OASA art 77d-1). More specifically, the individual must be able to understand and to be understood in the language spoken at his/her place of residence. To prove that the language requirements are met, the applicant requires a) recognized language certificate or b) a FIDE language passport.
Please find a list of the recognized language certificate providers here: List of recognized certificates
Please find more information to obtain a FIDE language passport here: FIDE Language Passport
Who needs to provide a recognized language certificate?
As per the enforcement Foreigners Nationals and Integration Act in January 2019, the language requirements are applicable to various category of foreigners:
However, knowledge of a national language is deemed to be met if one the following below requirement is met:
- The indicated language is the foreigner’s mother tongue; or
- The foreigner has attended elementary or primary school for at least 3 years provided in the given language
- The foreigner has attended secondary school (specialized or general school), or holds a degree of higher educational level (university degree or specialized institutions) conducted in one of the national languages, whether in Switzerland or abroad
- The foreigner is able to present certificate of its linguistic skills, confirming their level of proficiency in the national language concerned and based on an attestation procedure in accordance with the generally recognized quality standards in language testing matters. In the canton of Geneva, for example, the authorities can accept the applicant to write a sworn statement, establishing that he/she can fluently speak French.
Who is exempted from the language test ?
The language requirement provisions do not apply the following categories of foreigners:
- Unmarried children under the age of 18 (art. 44, al. 3, LEI). It is assumed that they will learn the language at school or as part of vocational training.
- The foreign national has a physical, mental or psychological disability.
- The foreign national has a serious or long term illness.
- Other important personal circumstances because of:
→ Learning, reading or writing disability
→ “Working-poor” conditions
→ Caretaking responsibilities.
The practice of Cantonal Migration offices relating to the requirement of FIDE language test is still progressively being established, and Migration offices are trying their best to set definitive precedents in each scenario, in accordance with the Federal legislation, and their own specificities.
As an example, if a spouse or partner of a B permit holder fails at the test and cannot yet present the recognized A1 level language certificate, this should ultimately lead to the family having to leave Switzerland, as per the new legislation. However, in the Zug and Zurich Cantons for example, the departure of the family will not be immediate, and will be delayed until a further deadline, gracefully granted by the authorities in order to allow foreigners to adapt to the transition.
Since the entry into force of the FNIA, and provided that, as per now, only certificates from officially registered language schools are allowed the demand for language classes has importantly increased. As a consequence, waiting lists have become significant. We would encourage all foreigners concerned to apply for their recognized language tests as early as possible in the immigration process in Switzerland.
As well, we would encourage all employers that intend to employ foreign nationals to add recognized language courses in their relocation packages for their targeted employees, and respective spouses or registered partners.
- Do you need advanced clarifications or guidance on official languages tests?
- Do you have employees that require a Swiss work permit and you are wondering how these rules will impact their travel to Switzerland?
- Are you travelling with your family and need further information on the rules that will be applicable to your family members?
EY is your partner in this transition! Our services are here to help you to properly comply with the language requirements in regards to Swiss immigration matters. Feel free to contact us any time!