New Foreigner Nationals and Integration Act (FNIA) as of January 1, 2019

Immigration Law, Residence Permits, Settlement Permits, Language Proof, FNIA

On January 1, 2019, the Foreigner Nationals Act (FNA) was revised and renamed to the Foreigner Nationals and Integration Act (FNIA). The revision covered, in particular, aspects of integration that aimed at strengthening the integration of foreign nationals by means of appropriate measures and positive incentive. Among other things, the FNIA included integration criteria, a more binding design of the integration agreement, requirements for language skills and extended requirements in connection with the granting of settlement permits. Furthermore, immigration authorities now have the possibility of demoting a settlement permit once issued (C permit) to a residence permit (B permit).

Integration Criteria

The integration criteria serve to determine the degree of integration of foreign nationals. Now that the revision has come into force, a large number of foreign nationals living in Switzerland must fulfil these integration criteria. The following aspects are included:

  • the adherence to public safety and order;
  • respecting the values of the Federal Constitution;
  • language skills; and
  • participation in economic life or in the furtherance of education.

In the event that foreign nationals lack sufficient integration, immigration authorities may also conclude integration agreements with the persons concerned. If these are not complied with, the residence permit can ultimately be withdrawn.

Issuance of the Settlement Permit

With the new FNIA coming into force, a settlement permit can only be granted if the above-mentioned integration criteria are fulfilled. This also includes language skills, whereby the applicant must be able to speak level A2 orally and A1 in writing in the national language spoken at the place of residence. The proof of knowledge of the national language must already be provided when submitting the application for a settlement permit. Submitting an application for a language training program, as is the case, for example, for family reunification, is not deemed sufficient for a settlement permit.

Foreign spouses of Swiss citizens and of persons with a settlement permit must now also meet the above-mentioned integration criteria in order to be entitled to a settlement permit. Accordingly, they must prove that they have knowledge of the national language spoken in their place of residence, which corresponds to level A2 orally and A1 in writing. However, it is at the discretion of the competent authority to establish a higher language level requirement. In practice, the Canton of Zurich requires an A2 language level, both orally and in writing. As proof of language competency, certificates are accepted which meet the international test quality criteria of the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE). Currently, ALTE recognises telc, Goethe, ÖSD or TestDaF as language certificates for the German language.

Additional Requirements for Family Reunification

The conditions for family reunification have been tightened. As of January 1, 2019, additional criteria must be met, in addition to the previous requirements (such as the grace period for the reunification or the cohabitation of the family), in order for a family reunion to be permissible. For example, spouses must be financially independent and therefore not dependent on social benefits. They may equally not receive any supplementary benefits to the OASI/DI or require support as a result of their reunification.

Moreover, spouses who apply for a residence permit must also have knowledge of the national language spoken at their place of residence. For spouses of persons with a settlement permit and a residence permit, language level A1 is required orally. If, at the time the application is submitted, they cannot provide such proof, they may alternatively submit an application for a language training program prior to their entry, which should enable them to achieve level A1 of the corresponding national language. When the residence permit is extended for the first time, the spouses must prove that their oral language skills are finally at level A1.

Exceptions to the Requirement of Proof of Language Skills

However, there are exceptions to the requirement of proof of language skills: For highly qualified specialists in highly specialized industries and companies, good knowledge of the English language, for example, is already sufficient to enable sustainable integration.

Persons from certain countries of origin may also waive the language requirement in connection with the settlement permit. This waiver is based on state agreements concluded with certain countries which grant legal entitlement to the issuance of a settlement permit. These include nationals of Belgium, Germany, Denmark, France, the Principality of Liechtenstein, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal and Spain.

Demotion of Settlement Permits

In the event that the integration criteria are not met, following the enforcement of the revised FNIA, settlement permits may be revoked and replaced by a residence permit (so-called demotion). A new settlement permit may be issued after a demotion at the earliest after five years, provided that the integration criteria are met and there are no grounds for revocation.

For more information on the new FNIA or related matters, don’t hesitate to contact us for more information.

March 2019 | Authors: Michèle Stutz, Nadine Küng

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