Foreigners seeking permanent residency in Switzerland must speak one of the country’s four national languages, according to a government proposal. The bill includes measures to sue airlines which transport passengers who have no valid travel documents.
Presenting the set of proposals on Friday, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said language skills to master everyday situations were crucial for successful integration.
Three other criteria have to be fulfilled for full residency or for the extension of temporary licences: immigrants, including their family members, have to respect the values laid down in the Swiss constitution, including equal rights for men and women; they have to be willing to work or get some form of education; they must not have a criminal record.
Sommaruga said employers had an important role to play in boosting integration, as they benefited from foreign labour. She added the state also had a responsibility.
The government is to provide CHF20 million ($21.1 million) annually for integration programmes and improved cooperation between local, cantonal and federal authorities.
“Until now the state has not invested enough, notably to help young foreigners in the job market,” Sommaruga said.
Investment in future
The package of measures, still to be discussed by parliament, also grants foreigners a legal right to claim permanent residency if they qualify under the conditions set out in the bill.
In exceptional cases residency can already be obtained after five years in Switzerland.
“Integration of foreigners is an important element for national cohesion and Switzerland’s future,” she said.
In a bid to reduce illegal immigration, the cabinet is seeking to introduce a legal amendment allowing the federal authorities to crack down on airlines which fly passengers with no valid travel documents to Switzerland.
In the past, Switzerland was forced to abandon efforts to take carrier companies to court over the issue.
A draft bill, presented in November 2011, included proposals for an annual review of individual integration progress and mandatory measures by the cantonal authorities to impose agreements with immigrants considered difficult.
Following a consultation with political parties, organisations and the cantons, these plans were dropped.
Foreigners accounted for 23% of the total resident population by the end of last year.
A total of 1,825 060 people without Swiss passports lived in Switzerland, an increase of 3% over 2011.
Most immgrants come from European Union member countries, notably Italy, Germany and Portugal and France.
The biggest expat communities from outside the EU are from Serbia, Turkey and Kosovo.end of infobox
The amended bill was criticised by the main centre-right and rightwing political parties on Friday.
The rightwing Swiss People’s Party, known for its critical stance towards immigration, said it would categorically oppose the proposals in parliament. It accused the government of trying to mislead the public. It also warned the proposals would lead to extra spending to the tune of CHF100 million annually.
The centre-right Radicals said the bill was insufficient as it tried to introduce a right to claim residency status.
The centre-left Social Democratic Party welcomed the proposals, but it called for more government funds to boost integration and binding rules for employers to engage in integration programmes.