Switzerland 2020 language test and integration for B and C permit holders

Contents

Background

The Switzerland B and C permit language test changes have been awaited and expected.

Many of those local in Zurich remember the fallout after the 2014 Federal popular initiative “against mass immigration” result.

Then the need to balance the many bilateral EU agreements and the decision of the Swiss public created widespread uncertainty among many Zurich or other Swiss based foreign residents. 

Rumours and stories spread as foreigners realised they had little or no political influence on the outcome. 

Then it went a little quiet until December 2016 because the Swiss Parliament worked to approve changes made to The Federal Act on Foreign Nationals (FNA).
The FNA became the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals and Integration. (English Version) and key amendments or its most important regulation changes were not implemented until 2019. 

The wide sweeping changes affected other regulations including the:

  • Ordinance on Admission
  • Stay and Employment (Verordnung über Zulassung Aufenthalt und Erwerbstätigkeit, VZAE)
  • Ordinance on the Integration of Foreign Nationals (Verordnung über die Integration von Ausländerinnen und Ausländern, VIntA).

Introduction of a new language test requirement

The biggest new requirement for foreigners was the need to have proof and to show proficiency in German, French, or Italian ( depending where you live in Switzerland) from the 1st January 2020 when renewing or applying for a new permit.

A good number of B and C permit holders will from January 1st need to get certificates of language competency from a government-accredited institution to evidence their language skills in one of the Swiss national languages.

There will be exceptions for some (see FAQ below) those whose native language is German, French or Italian.

Foreigners who have been resident in Switzerland and completed primary school in one of the three languages may also be exempt.

The change in law provides for:

  • The creation of a minimum language requirements throughout Switzerland for  C-permit applications.
  • Language requirements for a wider pool of B-permit applicants
  • Foreign Nationals and Integration Act – New language requirement

Those covered by the legislation include:

L permit holders who were hoping to upgrade to a B following employment confirmation after probation or the renewal of a contract.

Dependents with non-EU-nationality aged at least 18 years applying for a B permit or an extension of a B permit

All non-Swiss-nationals applying for a C permit (unless a treaty provides for an unreserved right to a C permit) or an extension of a C permit

Language requirement implications for Swiss C permit holders

Regular application (after 10 years of uninterrupted residency in Switzerland):
Applicants need to at least meet an oral language level of A2 and a written language level of A1 in the official language of their Swiss place of residence.

Early application (after 5 years of uninterrupted residency in Switzerland):

Applicants need to at least meet an oral language level of B1 and a written language level of A1 in the official language of their Swiss place of residence.

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Language requirement implications for Swiss B permit holders

It is important to remember that not all B Permit applicants are affected by the changes and the language test requirement. 

A high percentage of B permit applicants from Italy, France and Germany and other EU countries where long-standing agreements are in place with Switzerland will not have to take a test. 

These countries include Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Liechtenstein,  Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.

Those who are those with non-EU nationality dependents aged 18 or over who apply for a B permit (first-time applications or an extension) must be able to show either:

Their speaking and writing skills in the language spoken in the region of Switzerland in which they live or intend to move to upon presentation of a language certificate (Level: at least A1);

OR

They are at least enrolled on a language course (Zurich canton German language course options) which will lead to the acquisition of the required language skills. 

Language requirement implications for Swiss L permit holders

The L permit is normally used as a “buffer” for when demand for permits is high or there is a need to balance an adjustment to B or C permit total numbers.

An L permit is used mainly for temporary employment or any work contracts which do not exceed 365 days.  

It is logical that anyone having one will not be subject to a language test qualification nor an integration to Swiss life assessment. 

For those with an L permit and who expect to have to apply for an upgrade to a B or to have their employer apply for one should enrol in a German language course.

New focus on Swiss and Zurich local life integration

From the 1st January 2019, the new law included the need to meet integration criteria which means for those in Zurich that you:

  • Have no criminal record
  • Respect the fundamental rights enjoyed by the people of Switzerland, which include: 
      – Equal rights of men and women.
      – Freedom of expression and religious freedom.
  • Comply with the decisions and instructions of Swiss public
    authorities
  • Pay your bills
  • You employed and do not receive welfare benefits
  • You understand and speak German to the level required under Federal law

What happens if you do not pass the integration test?

If you do not pass the Swiss and Zurich integration requirements, you will risk having your C permit downgraded to a B permit.

It is believed most of those affected will be due to failure to be “a good citizen” or those who committed a crime.

The language certification threshold is not high, nor is it difficult as long as you try to engage in daily life activities (see FAQ below). 

The problem comes if  B permit is not renewed because then your residency status will be affected. 

Once you are declined or rejected, you can appeal if you have been here in Zurich or Switzerland for some time..

It is not uncommon to get a rejection letter after your application for a C permit even if you held a B permit for some years.

When this happens the authorities will send you a notice that you can challenge the decision.

The estimated cost is around CHF 500 and you have no guarantee of success. 

Rejected B Permit holders have less rights or time to appeal and often when a B permit is expected, the authorities will issue a short 3 month term L permit. 

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FAQ – common questions and answers about the Switzerland B and C permit language and integration test and law changes

Who does not need to take a Swiss language test for a permit?

There is no language test requirement for unmarried children under 18 years of age, for spouses and unmarried children up to 18 years of age of Swiss citizens, nor for persons who may benefit from the provisions of the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP6) and their family members (spouses and unmarried children up to the age of 21).

Due account should be taken of the situation of persons who because of disability or illness or other important personal circumstances are unable to meet or have difficulty meeting the integration criteria (Art. 58a para. 2 FNIA).

How could I be excluded from taking the new Swiss language tests?

Proof of you having the required language skills is assumed to be evident if you qualify under one of the following exclusions:

You are a foreign national whose language mother tongue is a Swiss national language spoken in the place of your residency (domicile) and it is clear you have mastered both spoken and written forms.

You as a foreign national attended compulsory schooling in a national language for a minimum of three years

As a foreign national you completed upper secondary level education (apprenticeship, baccalaureate school, upper-secondary specialised school) or tertiary-level education (higher education institution) in a national language (as the language of instruction)

You have a existing language qualification and certificate in the correct language for your domicile which the Swiss authorities recognise and is attested to the required language skill requirements and standard.

Proof of you having the required language skills is assumed to be evident if you qualify under one of the following exclusions:

You are a foreign national whose language mother tongue is a Swiss national language spoken in the place of your residency (domicile) and it is clear you have mastered both spoken and written forms.

You as a foreign national attended compulsory schooling in a national language for a minimum of three years

As a foreign national you completed upper secondary level education (apprenticeship, baccalaureate school, upper-secondary specialised school) or tertiary-level education (higher education institution) in a national language (as the language of instruction)

You have a existing language qualification and certificate in the correct language for your domicile which the Swiss authorities recognise and is attested to the required language skill requirements and standard.

Do I need a recognised language certificate for Romansh?

You need German for Zurich and for the German speaking part of Switzerland.

There are no current language tests for Romansh which meet the quality criteria and requirements of the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE).

Your local gemeinde or municipal offices will provide you with your list of requirements.

What are the most likely life situations where I will need to prove my Swiss language skills?

As of 1.1.2020 a foreigner who seeks to work or be resident in Switzerland should expect to prove their language skills in the following typical situations:

  • You are seeking to bring your partner or spouse to Zurich or Switzerland and work here but have a current and classic “long distance” relationship.
  • For other family reasons you need to obtain or extend a residence permit in the case of reunification, which may include adult children ( over 18 yrs old) or a parent.
  • You separated, became divorced or dissolved a civil partnership and want to remain in Zurich or Switzerland.
  • You want to become a long-term resident or plan to become a Swiss citizen.

There are more detailed situations covered in current legislation and are subject to change.

Do my children need to take a Swiss language test? If so from what age?

If your child is under the age of 18 is in Switzerland because:

  • You travelled here as a family and the child is unmarried
  • Your child is subject the family reunification programme
  • You are a Swiss citizen and your child is unmarried

It is a good idea to check for updates of Art. 42 para. 3 and Art. 44 para. 3 of the Foreigner Nationals and Integration Act (FNIA) to be 100% sure.

As Swiss Federal legislation and EU rules change, please refer to the Federal and Zurich government websites.

What happens if I studied French or Italian and live in Zurich?

You need to have the correct language skills for your domicile.

Your residency and work in the German speaking part of Switzerland may ( if you do not have the correct exclusions) require you to take a German language course.

For a full overview of the language requirements and approved certificate providers.

Klubschule Migros appears to be marketed as a key language learning supplier, others do exist and prices can vary a bit, so check more than one school offer in detail for extras such as a placement test or their refund policies.

What language skill level do I need for my B or C permit?

The good news is at 1.1.2020 they are not too difficult. The Federal rules have not been amended by the individual cantons and the list of approved centres providing the certification is not that large.

The certification requirement is:
A1 spoken

B Permit renewal or application or evidence of study for qualification (decision likely to result in a lower short-term L permit to give you time to organise your studies if you are not from the EU).
A2 spoken and A1 written

C Permit application or renewal

  • Spouse of Swiss citizen or permit holder
  • Qualify because they are returning from overseas
  • Were downgraded and are getting their C permit back
  • Have completed 10 yrs residency 
  • B1 spoken and A1 written

C Permit fast track status after 5 years of uninterrupted residence in Switzerland
B1 spoken and A2 written

Note:

Acquiring Swiss nationality and subject to local cantonal rules and practice.
Simplified naturalisation for spouses of Swiss citizens living abroad after six years of proven marriage and cohabitation.

It is important to be able to communicate orally at interview and to pass the assessment of the Swiss authorities as part of their naturalisation process.

What language skill level do I need for my B or C permit?

The good news is at 1.1.2020 they are not too difficult. The Federal rules have not been amended by the individual cantons and the list of approved centres providing the certification is not that large.

The certification requirement is:
A1 spoken

B Permit renewal or application or evidence of study for qualification (decision likely to result in a lower short-term L permit to give you time to organise your studies if you are not from the EU).
A2 spoken and A1 written

C Permit application or renewal

  • Spouse of Swiss citizen or permit holder
  • Qualify because they are returning from overseas
  • Were downgraded and are getting their C permit back
  • Have completed 10 yrs residency 
  • B1 spoken and A1 written

C Permit fast track status after 5 years of uninterrupted residence in Switzerland
B1 spoken and A2 written

Note:

Acquiring Swiss nationality and subject to local cantonal rules and practice.
Simplified naturalisation for spouses of Swiss citizens living abroad after six years of proven marriage and cohabitation.

It is important to be able to communicate orally at interview and to pass the assessment of the Swiss authorities as part of their naturalisation process.

What language skill level do I need for my B or C permit?

The good news is at 1.1.2020 they are not too difficult. The Federal rules have not been amended by the individual cantons and the list of approved centres providing the certification is not that large.

The certification requirement is:
A1 spoken

B Permit renewal or application or evidence of study for qualification (decision likely to result in a lower short-term L permit to give you time to organise your studies if you are not from the EU).
A2 spoken and A1 written

C Permit application or renewal

  • Spouse of Swiss citizen or permit holder
  • Qualify because they are returning from overseas
  • Were downgraded and are getting their C permit back
  • Have completed 10 yrs residency 
  • B1 spoken and A1 written

C Permit fast track status after 5 years of uninterrupted residence in Switzerland
B1 spoken and A2 written

Note:

Acquiring Swiss nationality and subject to local cantonal rules and practice.
Simplified naturalisation for spouses of Swiss citizens living abroad after six years of proven marriage and cohabitation.

It is important to be able to communicate orally at interview and to pass the assessment of the Swiss authorities as part of their naturalisation process.

How do I know if I am at a A1 or B1 level for the new Swiss language test from 2020?

Welcome to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)!

The CEFR is a framework for languages and your level of learning which was created to be a common set of standards for listening, speaking and writing skills.

For the Swiss language test requirements which are designed to ensure that you can cope with everyday life ( you do not have to prove you are perfect, simply that you can survive!) in Zurich or Switzerland, the important levels are:  

Level A1
Can communicate in a very simple manner in their personal social environment, e.g. buy 500g of Emmental cheese from the deli counter in Migros ( having learnt it beforehand and practised the question)

Can comprehend or ask something when the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help by simplifying their language use. An important one to practice will be the purchase of your local Zurich city rubbish / trash bags ( example use of Deepl to help) 

Can introduce themselves and others in simple terms and answer simple questions about their personal details, e.g. where they work or do you have children. 

Level A2
Can understand simple questions and statements relating to important aspects of life, e.g. relationship status, respond to more detailed questions about your family, or about your education and past training and work.

Can communicate in simple and routine situations in offices or at other times to describe in simple terms your interest in movies, social activities or hobbies and other work or personal experiences.

Level B1
This is regarded as the start of being an intermediate level language speaker by many and any accreditation helps to show you are more personally confident when you use your German, or French or Italian in Switzerland.

You will be able to: 

Understand the main points of information on the news, be familiar about key information given by your employer or by an authority ( the local police will revert to English or another language in Zurich and still give you a speeding ticket. Do not think you have one over them just because they are being nice to you).

Cope with most situations that people encounter in everyday life, for example at home, at the post office returning your Zalando online purchase or when out and about in public areas.

Express yourself in simple and connected sentences even if you make a mistake about the verb tense, others will understand what you are speaking about.

Convey your opinion in a simple way, appear to be firm in a situation when you seek to get your point across or explain your reasons or action. 

For a complete overview of CEFR – use this Wikipedia link

Which types of language certificate are recognised by the Swiss authorities?

There are a number of different approved language certificates including the SEM language passport or on the official SEM list.

The SEM language passport is not compulsory and other language qualifications such as those from the Goethe Institut are recognised.

The exam center of the Goethe Institute in Zurich is the Center for German as a foreign language at the Zurich University for Applied Sciences (ZHAW).

Holders of recognised certificates can also obtain a SEM language passport from the fide secretariat for approximately CHF 20 which can be useful for when you apply for local Zurich or Swiss based jobs.

Will I get a biometric or the old paper residence permit?

Biometric residence permits are for foreign nationals who:

  • Third-state nationals
  • Third-state nationals who are family members of Swiss citizens
  • Third-state nationals who are family members of EU/EFTA citizens
  • Biometric residence permits shall be issued to holders of the following categories of residence permit:
  • Short-term residence permits (L)
  • Residence permits (B)
  • Settlement permits (C)

Compliance with EU requirements

When it signed the Schengen Agreement on 12 December 2008, Switzerland began issuing a new residence permit in credit-card format to foreign nationals.

In a subsequent development in early 2011, a microchip was added to these residence permits for the purpose of storing biometric data.

The new biometric residence permit indicates the foreigner’s status in Switzerland.

When presented with a valid national passport, the biometric residence permit entitles the holder to travel throughout the Schengen area without a visa.

Chip

A symbol on the upper left-hand side of the front of the card indicates that the residence permit contains an embedded microchip with biometric data: two digital fingerprints and a facial image.

The data are stored for five years and may only be used for the purpose of issuing a new biometric residence permit without the need for additional data processing.

The biometric residence permit for foreign nationals meets stringent international standards. The data are protected by a secure access control and an electronic key. The fingerprints are especially protected. The microchip does not allow a person to be located or monitored.

Application procedure

The application procedure and issuance of a biometric residence permit are decided by the canton of residence.

Biometric data is obtained from the person by the corresponding authority in the canton of residence.

Identification of the applicant is based on his/her passport.

Biometric residence permits are produced centrally by a Federal appointed company and are delivered or issued to the applicant by the usual means.

Residence permit fees cover the following: application processing, issuance of residence permit and capture of biometric data.

First-generation residence permits for foreign nationals (i.e. no biometric data stored) shall remain valid until the expiry date.

The new biometric residence permit shall only be issued after the previous residence permit has expired or if changes in personal data require issuance of a new residence permit.

Some key additional reading resource for anyone planning a move to Switzerland

In case you have time to read ...

2 thoughts on “Switzerland 2020 language test and integration for B and C permit holders”

  1. As far as I have been told, you must have complete the total A2 German for the C permit in canton Zurich, not A1/A2 as with the rest of Switzerland

    Reply

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