Claiming Swiss welfare no longer grounds for deportation under new plans

Claiming Swiss welfare no longer grounds for deportation under new plans

The Council of States, the upper house of parliament in Switzerland, has approved a plan that would prohibit cantons from revoking residence permits on the grounds that the holder received social security benefits. Supporters have argued that the current system makes expats and internationals less likely to claim benefits, even as they fall into poverty.

Switzerland moves to relax welfare rules for expats

By 23 votes to 20, the Council of States has voted to relax the rules around whether non-Swiss citizens are able to remain in Switzerland after they have claimed social security benefits like unemployment insurance and welfare. Under current rules, even those with C-residence (Settlement) permits who have lived in the country for more than 15 years can be deported by cantonal authorities, if they are “permanently or to a large extent dependent” on benefits.

Under the new plans, those who have lived in Switzerland for more than 10 years without interruption, and who haven’t applied for Swiss citizenship, can legally no longer have their residence permit withdrawn on the grounds that they have benefitted from social assistance programmes. Supporters noted that the policy will not only allow settled expats to remain in the country but will also embolden those who need assistance. 

However, it's important to bear in mind that the policy in its current form will not apply to those on L- or B- residence permits, who would still be subject to the same rules - where your benefit claiming status has a bearing on whether your residence permit is renewed or not.

Many internationals fear taking social security benefits, supporters say

State Councillor Samira Marti, Social Democratic (SP) representative for Basel and the person who proposed the new initiative, argued the plans would help people who have fallen into poverty after losing their jobs, becoming ill or filing for divorce. Representatives in favour of the motion told Blick that the current regulations hang a “Sword of Damocles” over the head of any expat that finds themselves in financial difficulty.

Representatives of FDP. The Liberals, the SP and The Centre told the newspaper that many non-Swiss avoid taking benefits they need and are entitled to for fear of losing their right to live in Switzerland. By changing the rules, officials hoped that those who find themselves in a difficult financial situation “have been heard.”

Opponents label the change as unnecessary

Others are more lukewarm about the idea, with FDP State Councillor Thomas Hefti arguing that the measure is "unnecessary." Speaking to reporters, he made the point that Cantonal Migrations Offices already carry out careful and compassionate checks before withdrawing permits, with authorities only likely to revoke a permit if the person “deliberately caused the situation which has made them fall into poverty.”

Despite being approved by both the National Council and the Council of States, the text of the initiative will be returning to the lower chamber for further scrutiny. They are expected to vote on the plan again in the coming weeks.

Thumb image credit: / Michael Derrer Fuchs

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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