Europeans who move to Switzerland to work but end up living off benefits could risk losing their residency status, following an important ruling by the Federal Court against a Portuguese barmaid.
In its ruling the court accepted an appeal by the Federal Migration Office and annulled an earlier decision by the Vaud Cantonal Court, which had refused to revoke the residency permit of a barmaid who was living on state benefits.
The woman had arrived in Switzerland in 2009 and had received a five-year residency permit. But she had only worked for one year in canton Vaud before losing her job when her firm underwent restructuring. Thereafter, she remained temporarily employed while receiving benefits.
In September 2012 Vaud’s Population Service revoked her permit, saying she had lost her “Community worker” status – applicable under European law – due to her limited employment over 18 months and lack of financial security. But this decision was annulled by the Vaud Cantonal Court.
The Swiss Federal Court’s decision on Thursday supported arguments put forward by the Federal Migration Office, which doubted the woman wanted to find work after losing her job.
According to the court, her behaviour “betrays her willingness to use the free movement of persons accord for abusive ends”.
This emblematic case gained media attention in May 2013 when the head of the migration office Mario Gattiker referred to it in an interview in the Sonntagsblick newspaper and called for legal clarification.
Gattiker declared at the time that the migration office would fight future cases of benefit tourism and abuse, in particular against citizens from southern EU states who move to Switzerland without work permits.
The issue of welfare payments made to foreigners was also a hot topic during the initiative passed by a narrow majority of Swiss voters on February 9 to curb immigration.
This proposal imposes limits on the number of foreigners allowed into Switzerland and may signal an end to the country’s free movement accord with the EU.