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Basel to offer foreigners free German lessons

Rolling out the welcome mat for immigrants: Basel Keystone

Voters in Basel have approved a counter-proposal for the authorities to personally welcome every immigrant to the city. In addition, it will be the first Swiss city to offer free German courses.

The counter-proposal was approved on Sunday by 64% of voters, with 33,776 to 18,952 votes. The corresponding integration initiative, launched by the Swiss People’s Party, was rejected: 39,178 to 14,530, or almost 73%. Voter turnout was nearly 53%.

In the future, all foreigners who move to canton Basel City will be invited for official welcome chats, where they’ll learn about the importance of the German language, local customs and integration services. Currently, they simply get some information by post.

Six to 12 months after the welcome meetings, new residents will be invited for follow-up talks. These will be a chance to discuss any integration-related goals or problems.

Basel’s immigrants will also be able to attend free German lessons during their first year. Basel is the first canton in Switzerland to offer this perk.

The People’s Party initiative “for the better integration of migrants” would have required that the majority of migrants forge an “integration agreement” with the local authorities – including integration targets. Applications for residency permits would then have been approved or rejected depending on whether the goals had been met – unless a higher law found otherwise.

However, immigration law is largely regulated by the federal government – not the cantons. A residency permit can’t be denied simply because a person doesn’t speak the language. And because of the Free Movement of Persons agreement, there are no mandatory integration agreements for citizens of the European Movement.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR