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Syrian family visa rules changed after influx

A Syrian refugee family that has been accepted for resettlement prepares to board a flight to Europe Keystone

The migration authorities have tightened visa requirements for relatives of Syrian nationals living in Switzerland, after the numbers of those coming and submitting asylum requests rose steeply.

This content was published on November 22, 2013 - 10:55
swissinfo.ch and agencies

The  requirements had only recently been eased in September in a special provision to allow visas to be issued more quickly and simply as a reaction to the “dramatic situation” in war-torn Syria.

“But the experience of the last few weeks has shown that that the provision leaves many questions open which is why diplomatic representatives have approached us. This has prompted the Federal Migration Office to define the provision,” the office said in a statement on Friday, confirming a report by public televison.

The easing measure had been a “humanitarian gesture” the office continued, which had allowed Syrians in Switzerland to bring their family members living in crisis regions to Switzerland legally and to offer them temporary protection.

It had applied to Syrians whose relatives were already living in Switzerland with B or C residence permits or who were naturalised Swiss citizens.

Family reunification had been extended from the nuclear family (spouses and children up to 18) to relatives such as grandparents and parents, as well as brothers and sisters and members of their families.

“It was not the aim of the provision that these people upon arrival in Switzerland submit an asylum request,” the statement said. “We expect that these people in a first phase (as is usual for a visitors’ visa) are looked after by their relatives.”

In mid-October 44 people came to Switzerland following the easing of visa requirements. A month later this had risen to 642 people. The number of visitor visa requests shot up over the same period from 800 to 1,400.

The migration office now requires a letter of invitation from the host families, as is also usual for a visitors’ visa. It is also checking the financial affairs of host families who will be responsible for their relatives for three months. The relatives from Syria must also agree to leave the country after 90 days or, if not possible, register themselves with cantonal migration offices.

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The cantonal migration authorities said they were worried that there might be a large amount of extra work, as well as costs.

The non-governmental Swiss Refugee Council is also critical. “This is not just tightening, it’s basically a cancellation of easing of family reunification,” the NGO's secretary-general Beat Meinen said.

“These financial demands now being made prevent Syrians from travelling to Switzerland,” he said. The organisation is therefore calling for the new measures to be withdrawn.

As for the Syrian refugees accepted as part of a United Nations humanitarian programme in September, the first group is expected to arrive in Switzerland shortly.  

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