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Foreigners could need language passport

No C-permit without the pre-requisite language skills Keystone

Foreigners seeking long-term residency in Switzerland could be issued with a so-called language passport as part of the approval process if new legislation on integration is accepted by parliament.

The passport would include an indication of the person’s language skills, and only applicants who are able to communicate would receive a C-permit allowing them to stay for an unlimited period.

Adrian Gerber, head of the integration section at the Federal Office for Migration, confirmed on Sunday a report in the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper. “The language passport will be introduced in 2015 at the earliest,” he said.

It is still not clear what language skills an applicant will need to get the C-permit, which is only given out after at least five year’s residency in Switzerland. Knowledge of a national language is already a requirement for citizenship applications.

Recently arrived foreigners seeking shorter term residence and the annually renewed B-permit that goes with it would also have to demonstrate some language skills. However officials would not be expected to test this knowledge as it would only generate more red tape than necessary according to Gerber.

Recipients of a B-permit would be expected to learn the local language and complete language courses. When permits are renewed, officials could force in some cases applicants to attend a course.

This requirement would be mainly applied in cases of family reunification. “With improved language skills, better integration should be achieved,” explained Gerber.

Common reference

The goal is to ensure that people can get through daily life without any problems and improve their knowledge of the local language. “They should be able to make a doctor’s appointment for example, or parents should be able to understand school information concerning their children,” added Gerber.

The language passport should certify a person’s skills at a specific time. The migration office proposes using the  Common European Framework of Reference for Languages as the benchmark, but how skills should be tested is still not decided.

The language passport would be introduced as part of the revised legislation on foreign nationals, which passed a first hurdle last week when it was approved by the Senate. It demands that only well integrated foreigners be granted long-term residency and one of the criteria for integration is language skills.

Exemptions would be granted for handicapped and illiterate people.

Under current legislation, the cantons will already have to promote language skills to improve integration after January 1, 2014. The new passport, which could also be useful for potential employers and schools, would constitute a further step in promoting integration according to Gerber.

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