Anyone can apply for asylum – protection from persecution – in Switzerland, but applicants must prove or at least credibly demonstrate their refugee status.
The Swiss Asylum Act defines the term refugee and the conditions which can – and cannot – result in asylum.
According to the act, “cases are not credible in particular if they are unfounded in essential points or are inherently contradictory, do not correspond to the facts or are substantially based on forged or falsified evidence”.
An asylum application can be made:
- Verbally or in writing at any Swiss border post or during customs clearing at an airport on arrival in Switzerland.
- After evading the border controls having entered Switzerland illegally, and by foreign nationals already officially residing in Switzerland.
It is not possible to apply for asylum in Switzerland from abroad. However, people who want to apply for asylum in Switzerland may file a visa request with a Swiss diplomatic representation. The embassy or consulate will determine whether compelling reasons exist which warrant the issuing of a visa for Switzerland.
People who have left their home countries and are staying in a third state are considered not in serious danger and therefore ineligible for asylum. Humanitarian visas are difficult to obtain.
Note that Switzerland is party to the Dublin Agreement, which requires the first European country where an asylum seeker arrives to fingerprint the person and hear their application. Asylum seekers who then travel to another EU/EFTA country and reapply for asylum should in theory be sent back to the country where they first applied – although Switzerland has been involved in exceptions to this.
Irrespective of their method of entry, asylum seekers have to report to one of the State Secretariat for Migration’s six reception and procedure centers.
Applicants will then be asked for their personal details, travel itinerary and motives for asylum. They will be fingerprinted and photographed to determine whether they have sought asylum in Switzerland in the past under another name.
Swiss officials will also check if the applicant fingerprints are already registered in the Eurodac database by a European Union country, Norway, Lichtenstein or Iceland.
In June 2016 Swiss voters backed government plans to speed up asylum procedures in Switzerland. These fast-track proceedings come into force March 1, 2019.
Most of the simpler asylum cases will be dealt with in new bigger federal reception centres that can take up to 5,000 people. Asylum seekers will be also be granted free legal aid.
Applicants are accommodated in federal reception centres throughout the asylum procedure. Unless additional investigative measures are required (extended procedure), Switzerland aims to decide their case within 140 days.
Here is an overview of the different stages of asylum proceedings in Switzerland:
In addition to accommodation places for asylum seekers, the procedure centres house offices for hearing officers, interpreters, document verifiers and legal representatives.
To prevent terrorists from entering Switzerland under the guise of asylum seekers, the State Secretariat for Migration passes all asylum applications from high-risk countries to the Federal Intelligence Service. The list of high-risk countries is confidential.
Switzerland received a total of 14,269 applications in 2019, the lowest level in 12 years.
As a rule, asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected are given a timeframe to leave Switzerland: anywhere from a few days to six months. Failure to leave voluntarily will result in forced deportation by the police. Searches will be conducted for anyone who stays in the country illegally.
Rejected applicants have the right to appeal to the Federal Administrative Court.
When a person is not granted asylum but repatriation is still not an option, the State Secretariat for Migration can order temporary admission to Switzerland. Reasons for this may include a general climate of violence (as in Syria), risk of persecution or situations where a person has no access to necessary health care.
Swiss regulation differentiates between recognised refugees, temporarily admitted refugees and temporarily admitted persons.
Refugees and provisionally admitted foreign nationals receiving social assistance may be obliged to participate in integration or job-training programmes. If they do not do so without good reason, social assistance benefits may be reduced.
Applicants are not allowed to work during the first three months after filing an asylum application. This can be extended to six months. Here is some information on accessing the labor market afterwards. And these are the addresses for cantonal immigration and labour market authorities.
In line with the Swiss constitution, asylum seekers who had their asylum request rejected or dismissed have the right to obtain emergency aid until their departure.
For the entire duration of the asylum procedure, asylum seekers may not bring family members to Switzerland.
Recognised refugees (holding a B or C permit) may bring family members if there are no grounds to prevent them from doing so. Recognised refugees who are granted an F permit (temporarily admitted persons) must wait at least three years before submitting an application for family reunification for their children under 18 and their spouse.
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