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Unique in Switzerland Geneva pilot project regularises over 1,000 illegal immigrants

Women holding Swiss flags and thank-you banners

Geneva aims through the Papyrus project to end illegal employment and integrate vulnerable people 

(Keystone)

A total of 1,093 illegal immigrants have been regularised under the “Papyrus” pilot project launched a year ago in Geneva. 

This number is expected to rise to 2,000 by the end of the project in December this year, according to Pierre Maudet, a minister in the Geneva cantonal government who helped initiate Papyrus. 

There are some 13,000 illegal immigrants in Geneva, according to the federal State Secretariat for Migration (SEM). 

Of those regularised so far, the majority are families, including 400 children. A large proportion are women, many of whom are from Latin America and do paid domestic work, according to research by the University of Geneva. 

Only four people who applied under the scheme have so far been rejected, all because of a criminal record. Three were rejected by the cantonal migration authorities and one by the SEM. All four were deported. 

+Read more about the Papyrus project

State Secretary Mario Gattiker of the SEM noted that Geneva has introduced measures to prevent abuses and keep newly regularised workers on the job market so they do not have to rely on social assistance if they lose their jobs. It has, for example, launched a website for domestic employment where employees can offer their services. 

The Geneva authorities are also calling on employers to conform with the law and declare their staff. A “grace period” currently in place will run out on June 31. After that, checks will be stepped up and cases of people being employed illegally will be referred to the cantonal justice authorities.  

Not for everyone 

Papyrus is unique in Switzerland and is drawing much interest from both the federal authorities and the cantons. Some people fear that it could open the floodgates, but others are thinking of launching similar projects. 

People applying to be regularised under Papyrus must meet strict criteria. A family with children must prove they have been living in Geneva for at least five years continuously. For people without children, the requirement is ten years. Applicants must also be financially independent. 

Papyrus allows vulnerable people to come out of fragile situations, according to Maudet. It is also a way of putting an end to illegal employment. The pilot project is being carried out in partnership with the Protestant Social Centre (CSP), the Swiss-Immigrant Contact Centre (CCSI), the SIT labour union and an association representing undocumented persons in Geneva. 

ATS/jc

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