Migrant contracts show first fruit

Language is seen as key to integration Keystone

Integration contracts for migrants, introduced two years ago, have had some success in Switzerland - but there is still room for improvement, a study has found.

This content was published on May 6, 2010 - 21:18

Some cantons have taken a harder tack than others. Meanwhile, critics have warned that migrants should not be forced to integrate.

The cantons of Basel City, Basel Country, Solothurn, Zurich and Aargau signed up to the pilot project in 2008, the evaluation of which was presented in Zurich on Thursday.

An integration contact is made between a migrant and a canton, which is responsible for integration matters under the Swiss federal system.

It defines the migrant’s aims, such as attaining a language fluency level or attending an integration course. If these goals are not reached, sanctions may be imposed. People from around 45 nations have been involved so far.

Study leader Eva Tov, of the Northwestern Switzerland University of Applied Sciences, said that while all five cantons wanted better integration, they had chosen different paths.


“Basel City focused on the population already living in Switzerland which has some integration problems and Zurich focused on people who are just arriving,” she told

“You could say that Zurich has a preventative focus but Basel City has a repairing focus,” Tov said.

Translation has also posed a problem. Some cantons expected migrants to rely on family or friends, whereas others provided professional services. “We found that some people didn’t understand what the contract was all about,” Tov said.

This is why the report recommends the use of professional translators with intercultural expertise. It also wants to see standardisation in the whole contract process, to increase transparency and clarity.

The study did not, however, recommend the contracts for all foreigners, who make up around 20 per cent of the population. Most take integration measures on their own.

Target groups included foreign residents with an “integration deficit” or newcomers who might find it hard to adjust.

But people moving to Switzerland might benefit from a first welcome and information session at their local migration authority, the study found. This includes those from European Union and EFTA countries who normally are not candidates for contracts.

Joe’s exemption

The recommendations have provided food for thought for the five cantons, which along with the Federal Migration Office, commissioned the report.

Guy Morin, president of Basel City, the first canton to introduce the contracts, said officials would be discussing the findings. But he thought introductory and welcome sessions should be voluntary.

For example, Joe Jimenez, the new CEO of Basel-based pharmaceutical giant Novartis, could not be expected to take part, he said.

“Nowadays we have migration of highly qualified people coming for our life sciences industry and in our hospitals or universities and these people are welcome,” said Morin, adding that forcing attendance could be off-putting.

The study found that 76 per cent of contract signees were female, some of whom lead isolated lives. Canton Solothurn has flagged up marriages of Swiss men to women from South and Central America or Southeast Asia as a particular issue.

These could produce “an astoundingly high” number of problems, representative Albert Weibel said. Some Swiss men were even against their wives integrating, he added.

Mixed views

Non-governmental organisations have mixed views on the contracts. “What we find good is the work towards national recommendations on integration,” Adrian Hauser, head of communications at the Swiss Refugee Council, told

“Where we see problems is how it is putting pressure on people. This only affects a small target group and mostly people who already have private problems like a divorce, and we see a problem if you put these people under even more pressure with these contracts.”

For Hauser, the recommendations are not new – his organisation had similar findings in a 2007 report - but he did support the emphasis on dialogue and offering a welcome.

But he was concerned that some groups, such as Africans, might end up with more contracts, leading to even more stigmatisation. A general approach is therefore not really viable.

“We want a case by case approach to integration, tailored to the personal situation of the person involved,” he said.

Isobel Leybold-Johnson,

Integration contracts

Since 2008, when a federal law on foreigners came in, cantons have been permitted to draw up integration contracts. These can have an effect on the issuing of residency permits, but generally in collaboration with other issues.

The aim of these contacts is to acquire language skills, as well as knowledge of Swiss society and legal systems.

The Federal Migration Office’s recommendations as target groups were: people in caring or teaching professions, people from non-EU countries who come as family, and people already resident but who are at risk of losing residency because of their behaviour.

The study’s evaluation covered April 2009-end of March 2010 and included around 240 contracts.

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Foreign nationals

In 2008 one in five permanent residents in Switzerland was a foreign national. Nearly 20% were from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia. Among the other foreign nationals that were resident 17.5% were Italian, 14% were German, 14% from Portugal, 11% from Serbia and Montenegro ,11% from France, 5% from Turkey, 3.9% from Spain.

(Federal Statistics Office, 2009)

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Foreign residents must wait at least 12 years before being eligible to apply for citizenship.

Foreigners married to Swiss nationals can take advantage of a simplified or "facilitated" procedure, reducing the number of years they have to wait.

Successful applicants must show that they are integrated into Swiss society, comply with Swiss law and pose no threat to internal or external security.

The cantonal and local authorities are responsible for naturalisation procedures.

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