Integration Law and Language Requirements Explained

A guest article by Fachstelle Migration Zug

Moving country involves a lot of organisation, a long to-do list, and a fair amount of courage. Learning the local language is usually somewhere on the list but for many of us, something that can be dealt with later on, when other things are settled. 

Since Switzerland revised integration laws in January 2019, the obligation to learn German and provide certified evidence of a specified level has become a sometimes challenging reality for many foreign residents in canton Zug. It is also the source of much confusion and misunderstanding, which is evident from the number of enquiries we receive about this subject at FMZ. 

For non-EU citizens arriving with their families, the adult linked to the main permit, usually the non-working partner, has to be registered in a German course before arrival for the permit to be issued. Renewal of the permit after one year is reliant on the presentation of a recognised certificate showing A1 spoken level of German.

Achieving A1 at a spoken level is quite different from being able to pass a complete A1 exam including all 4 components and it was not possible to obtain a "partial" certificate for the spoken part. FMZ arranged for a partial exam to be made available through the Goethe Institute. There are other exams and providers, but the complete Goethe exams are the only internationally recognised certificates, and all exams offer a preparation session.

To obtain a C-permanent settlement permit (Niederlassungsbewilligung) applicants need to demonstrate A1 level reading and writing and A2 level speaking and listening. The time limits still depend on EU (5 years residence) or non-EU nationality (10 years residence). UK citizens who were residents in Switzerland before Brexit are granted the conditions of the previous agreement.

The fast-track C-permit is useful for non-EU citizens, as it requires a minimum of 5 years of residence in Switzerland but a higher level of German A1 reading/writing and B1 speaking/listening. Unlike the ordinary C-permit, the application has to be made by the entire family unit, not by an individual. For children in a local Swiss school, no German certification is required for residence permits, but otherwise, children in private schools, over the age of 12 also need to provide a certificate. The Goethe exams make an age-appropriate distinction for testing children in the spoken section. 

The language requirements for naturalisation (Swiss passport) are determined by each canton. Here in Zug, it is A2 reading/writing and B1 speaking/listening. Applications can only commence after 10 years and by applicants who hold a C-permit and A2/B1 German certificate. Goethe certificates for residence purposes (family reunification permit, C-permits, and passport) are issued within 5 working days, as opposed to 4-8 weeks for others, which is important when a residence permit renewal deadline is involved. 

There are of course other requirements linked to the granting and renewal of permits. The criteria set out by the law (Foreign Nationals and Integration Act AIG -Art. 58a Integration criteria) are broadly covered by the following: 

1. Respect for public safety and order.
2. Respect for the values of the Federal Constitution.
3. Acquisition of language skills.
4. Participation in economic life or acquisition of education.

For most of us, the criteria are not too hard to fulfil and it would be a case of bad luck or bad behaviour to fall foul of them (for more information, visit one of the FMZ AIG events). Learning German is always useful, even if it is not yet at the level we would wish for. Living in canton Zug makes it easy for those of us who speak English to become complacent, as we are spoiled by the language skills of the locals. But a few words go a very long way, even if it only succeeds in communicating that we are trying.

Cathy Newman – Fachstelle Migration Zug (FMZ)