Young foreigners living illegally in Switzerland will be allowed to undertake apprenticeships, but only if they are well integrated and if they have attended school for at least five consecutive years.
The change to the legislation on foreigners working in Switzerland, announced by the cabinet on Friday, comes in response to a 2010 parliamentary decision. Both chambers accepted a proposal to let these youngsters gain access to the job market and clear up what many people consider an unfair situation.
While illegal residents are allowed to attend compulsory schooling, that right was usually extinguished after they finished their ninth – or an additional transition – year. However, some cantons allow these students to continue their education until they receive a degree.
For anyone wishing to begin an apprenticeship, this has been impossible since a legally binding contract is necessary and the migration authorities must be notified to obtain a work permit.
An estimated 300 to 500 young people residing illegally in Switzerland finish compulsory school every year, and around two-thirds of them could benefit from the legal change, according to figures provided by the Federal Migration Office.
To qualify, they will have to have spent at least five consecutive years within the school system and speak one national language – German, French or Italian – fluently to demonstrate their level of integration. A clean criminal record will also be necessary.
Judged on merits
Under the new rules, these young people can apply for a residence permit within 12 months of finishing school, this timeframe taking into account that foreigners find it more difficult to find an apprenticeship. Providing their full identity will be part of the process.
Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said the change was not a step towards regularisation of the so-called 'sans-papiers', some 90,000 illegal residents without the correct permits, according to a 2005 study commissioned by the government.
The youngsters are instead being given the opportunity to complete their education. The authorities say these teenagers often had no say in their move to Switzerland.
Their parents and siblings will also be able to receive residence permits if the migration authorities recognise their case as one of serious hardship.
However, each case will be judged on its own merits, Sommaruga warned.
swissinfo.ch and agencies