‘Plan in advance’: How easy is it to get permanent residency in Switzerland?

Getting a residence permit C can be a great way to secure your rights in Switzerland. The Local spoke to readers to find out their experiences of applying for it.

Swiss German can be incredibly difficult to learn, but the journey is well worth it. Photo by Chris Lutke on Unsplash
Many foreigners want to settle in Switzerland. Photo by Chris Lutke on Unsplash

For foreigners trying to build a life in Switzerland, securing permanent residency is often their long-term aim – or a step towards citizenship. 

But it can take a long time. Becoming eligible for a Swiss permanent residence permit (also known as the ‘Settled Foreign Nationals’ C permit) depends on where you’re from, and how integrated you are.  

People from an EU/EFTA member country are able to get Swiss permanent residence permit after living in Switzerland for five continuous years.

Meanwhile, those from non-EU or EFTA countries have to have been living in the Alpine country with a Permit B for 10 years before they can apply for the Permit C. 

There are some exceptions. Americans and Canadians, for instance, can also apply for a permanent residency after five years.

In some cases, non-EU nationals can be granted a Permit C in five years for family reasons. 

And it’s also possible for non-EU citizens to fast-track the process and snag a settlement permit in Switzerland after five years by meeting certain requirements such as language skills (depending on your canton) and being well integrated into society. 

READ ALSO: How to fast-track permanent residency in Switzerland 

Want to put your Swiss residency permit in the fast lane? Follow these steps. Image: Pixabay

A Swiss flag on a boat. Image: Pixabay

Language tests 

When The Local spoke to readers about their applications, we found varied experiences across the board. 

Some respondents said the process was simple. 

Alex, 40, who’s from Hong Kong and holds an Irish passport, is based in Founex, Vaud.

“My Permit B expired so it was only natural to apply for a Permit C,” he said. “It was really easy. My commune at the time basically handled everything.”

Most readers agreed that the language requirements, which vary depending on the canton, were the trickiest part of the process.  

Jessica, based in Morges, said: “As an American, I had to pass the B1 speaking/listening and A2 reading/writing in French.

“I found it (the process) pretty easy, but was very nervous for the language test,” said the 48-year-old. 

Edwina Champ, 64, who’s from England and now lives in Schindellegi, said she feels “more likely to be accepted” after getting permanent residency in Switzerland. 

She said the language requirements were “tricky but expected”. She needed A2 written and spoken German.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Swiss language tests for residency 

Another reader, Andrew, 32, from the UK and living in Luzern, said his B permit needed to be renewed after five years and he realised he qualified for the C permit. 

“I had to take the A2 German exam which wasn’t particularly challenging,” said Andrew. “Otherwise it was mostly just collecting the correct documents from around Switzerland and the UK.”

However, he said that it could be difficult to figure out the requirements “if you don’t understand the regulations or don’t plan in advance”.

‘Travel is so much easier’

Yvonne from the USA and who lives in Basel-Land said the process was “was surprisingly easy and simple”.

“I needed to submit by email the following: employment contract, copies of passport and B permit, non pursuit for debt, and language certificate. I received the C permit by mail within a week.”

Yvonne – like several readers – talked of the “security” benefits of finally getting the permit.

“Having the C permit allowed me to make plans such as pursuing other jobs (in and outside of Switzerland because you can pause your C permit for up to four years), buy a primary (and/or secondary home) with the assurances that I could rent it if employment or other reasons moves my family to a different city/canton, and provides an overall sense of security as we live in stable country during very uncertain times globally,” she said.

Eloise, 26, from New Zealand and living in Montreux, said: “It is incredible. I am able to join more groups, it makes travel across the border much easier. My job is more fluid now too.”

A swiss passport

Some said getting a residence permit was a step towards getting Swiss citizenship. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

‘I had to stay in Switzerland for 10 years’

Some readers waited a decade for their residence permit. 

Parisa, 38, who lives in Basel and is from Iran, applied for permanent residence to avoid having to renew a permit every year. Parisa received the document around a month ago.

“I have been living and working in Switzerland since 2011,” Parisa said. “As an Iranian I have to live and work here for 10 years to be eligible for C permit.

“I submitted A2 German and French language certificates, my PhD degree from Switzerland, my scientific CV and my Swiss driving license.”

Aralk Ervafel, 50, who’s from the UK and lives in Basel, said: “I had to stay in the country for 10 years and then I received it automatically with no fuss. My employer sorted everything out and it just arrived.”

‘Process is not transparent’

Not all respondents to our survey had a smooth process with some telling us us they were still waiting for the permit.

Marta, 33, who’s Polish and living in Thalwil said her application was rejected after five years, and expects the process to take 10 years. 

HL See, who’s 32, and from Malaysia, wants a C permit to feel at home in Zurich with her Swiss husband. 

But she’s found the “non-transparent bureaucracy process” frustrating so far.

“I am on the fast track application,” she said. “It has been 10 weeks now, I’ve heard nothing.

“We don’t know how long and where exactly the process is after we submitted the documents.”

HL said once she has the permit she will feel “more at home here”.

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What is the EU’s plan to make freedom of movement easier for non-EU residents?

Members of the European Parliament are trying to reduce the time required for non-UE citizens living in EU countries to get long-term resident status and move more easily across the bloc. But will it happen?

What is the EU's plan to make freedom of movement easier for non-EU residents?

The European Parliament said this week the period of legal residence to obtain such status should be cut from five to three years. This sounds a positive move for non-EU residents , but EU governments will have to agree to the move. What are the chances this will happen?

What is EU long-term residence?

Under a little-known EU law, third-country nationals can in theory acquire EU-wide long-term resident status if they have lived ‘legally’ in an EU country for at least five years.

They also must not have been away for more than 6 consecutive months and 10 months over the entire period (the rules are different for Brits covered by Withdrawal agreement), and can prove to have “stable and regular economic resources” and health insurance.

Applicants can also be required to meet “integration conditions”, such as passing a test on the national language or culture knowledge.

The purpose of these measures was to “facilitate the integration” of non-EU citizens who have been living in the EU for a long time, ensuring equal treatment and some free movement rights.

However in practice, this law has not worked as planned.

READ ALSO: Could it get easier for non-EU citizens to move to another EU country?

One of the problems is that most EU member states continue to issue “almost exclusively” national permits unless the applicant explicitly asks for the EU one. And many applicants are unaware of the EU residency permit.

Some countries also require employers to prove they could not find candidates in the local market before granting a permit to a non-EU citizen, regardless of their status.

So what’s happened so far?

Last year the European Commission proposed to review and simplify these rules. The European Parliament and EU Council (which is formed by EU governments) have to give their views before the final legislative text can be approved.

This week MEPs said they want to shorten to three years, instead of five, the period non-EU nationals are required to be legally resident in a member state in order to acquire EU long-term status.

They also agreed it should be possible to combine periods of legal residence in different EU member states, instead of resetting the clock at each move.

In addition, time spent for studying or vocational training, seasonal work, temporary protection (the scheme that applies to Ukrainian refugees) should be calculated too. At present, these periods do not count towards EU long-term residence.

‘Freedom of movement is an illusion for non-EU nationals’

Once long-term residence is obtained in an EU country, it should be automatically recognised at EU level too, MEPs said, asking to remove restrictions such as labour market checks or integration requirements for people who move to another EU state.

If countries require someone to speak the national language to grant the status, they should provide free courses.

Dependent children of people who already have such a permit should be granted the same status automatically, regardless of where they were born, MEPs also argued.

On the other hand, people who hold a residence permit in an EU country only on the basis of an investment scheme should not be eligible for EU long-term residence, the parliament said.

“We currently have 27 labour markets, there is no freedom of movement. That’s an illusion for third-country nationals who are on such status right now,” said Damian Boeselager, the German MEP leading on this file at the European Parliament.

“If you, to say it very harshly, want to find another job after maybe losing yours in Paris, or if you just want to develop further, you are confined to France. Otherwise, you will have to go through the complete new procedure again in another member state…”

What are the objections?

Boeselager and members of parliament who support this position argue that Europe is ageing quickly and skill shortages damage the economy, so Europe should become more attractive to non-EU workers. One way to do this is removing obstacles and making their life easier once they are in the bloc, MEPs said.

“If you look at the numbers, we’re supposed to lose over 50 million people from our workforce in Europe over the next 30 years, which just shows that we are currently in a situation where we need to rethink our talent, migration and attractiveness,” Boeselager said at a press conference.

“Even under Trump the US was more attractive for international talent than Europe… So we need somehow to get better. We need to attract international talent to the European Union. And this is also what we are trying to do with the long-term residence directive,” hr continued.

But not everyone agrees and the approval of the European Parliament position has already caused controversy.

The group of the European Conservatives and Reformists (which includes, among others, Italian party Brother of Italy, Spain’s Vox, the Sweden Democrats and Poland’s Law and Justice), as well as the Identity and Democracy groups (which includes Italy’s Lega, France’s Rassemblement National, Germany’s AfD, Denmark’s Danks Folkeparti and Austria’s FPO) object to the plan.

Conservative and far-right parties argue that migration issues should be decided at national level, the focus should be on border controls and priority for the job market should be given to own citizens. The groups also wanted more time to discuss the proposals.

The Parliament adopted its opinion anyway (with 391 votes in favour, 140 against and 25 abstentions). But the opinion of the parties opposed to the scheme will re-emerge in the discussion among EU governments.

What happens next?

Now that MEPs have their position, it is for EU governments to agree their own and then negotiate with the Parliament to come up with the final text of this law.

One of the things EU governments could do is to slow down the process or do nothing, not allowing the file to progress. New legislation should be completed by February 2024, before the European Parliament elections in May next year.

Boeselager hopes these measures can be adopted by Christmas. “We can’t go to the next elections without having these directives approved,” said Spanish MEP Javier Moreno Sanchez, who is leading the discussion on the revision of the single work and residence permit for non-EU citizens. Sanchez said he is optimistic that the Spanish government, which will take over the rotating EU presidency in the second half of 2023, will push ahead with this file.

According to the European statistical office, Eurostat, in 2021 23.7 million non-EU citizens were living in EU countries, making up 5.3 percent of the total EU population.

This article was produced by Europe Street News