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Foreigners face language-class obligation

The focus of the new measures is on language and integration classes

(Keystone)

Foreigners in Switzerland applying for a residence permit could soon face compulsory language courses under plans drawn up by the government.

The authorities say the measures, which are due to come into force next February, would help promote integration.

Under the new rules, the authorities will have to take into consideration the degree of integration of the applicant when granting a residence permit or permit extension.

Previously these conditions only applied to applications for citizenship.

In a statement on Wednesday, the justice ministry said the new requirements would also apply to those who give religious instruction, culture or language classes within foreign communities.

This stipulation has been interpreted in some quarters as applying particularly to imams sent from abroad.

Dominique Boillat, a spokesman for the Federal Migration Office, said it was especially important for people acting as a link between cultures to be integrated.

Margins of society

Boillat told swissinfo that some immigrants remained on the margins of society because of poor language skills, lack of work or involvement in the local community.

"Lack of integration creates divisions between immigrants and the rest of society which can translate into tensions," he said.

Under the new system, if integration is judged to be successful, the authorities will have the power to grant a permanent residence permit after five years of residency. Currently this can take up to ten years.

The Federal Migration Office will assume a coordinating role in this policy but the integration criteria will vary from canton to canton.

The move comes as parliament prepares to debate a new law on foreigners later this month. This law is intended to replace existing legislation, which dates back to 1931.

The new law will regulate the admission and residence of non-European Union or European Free Trade Association nationals who are not asylum seekers.

It will also be the first time that the principles and objectives of the integration of foreign nationals are extensively laid down in law.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Data from the Federal Migration Office:
Total population of Switzerland (December 2004): 7,388,483.
Foreign residents: 1,495,008 (or 20.2%).
There are three permit categories for foreigners – C, B and L.
Most foreigners - 1,089,379 - are permanent residents with an open-ended C permit.
There are 384,910 holders of the fixed-term B permit.
20,719 people are holders of the short-term temporary L permit.
The total foreign population includes 86,839 temporary residents and 55,103 asylum seekers.

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