Jul 10 2019

Language Requirements to be Made Stricter In 2020


At a Glance

  • Starting January 1, 2020, most foreign nationals will be required to obtain certified language certificates to prove they have met Switzerland’s language integration requirements, which may prolong the document-gathering process for B and C permit applications.
  • Until December 31, 2019, Swiss authorities will continue accepting any language certificate which confirms the requisite language level.

The situation

Existing language requirements in place for B and C permit holders since January 2019 will need to be evidenced by specific documents beginning January 1, 2020, when standardized language certificate requirements will come into force. A transition period is in place until December 31, 2019 during which foreign nationals can submit any language certificate which demonstrates the required language skills.

A closer look

  • Language certificates. Starting January 1, 2020, standardized and certified language certificates from an accredited institution will be required for all applicants who need to demonstrate language skills to apply for a residence permit. 
  • Exceptions. The following foreign nationals are already exempt from the requirement to prove their language skills and will not need to obtain a language certificate when the requirement goes into effect:
    • Foreign nationals whose native language is German, French or Italian;
    • Foreign nationals who have completed primary school in German, French and Italian, even if the school was based outside Switzerland;
    • Foreign nationals who have completed secondary school or university in German, French and Italian, even if the school was outside Switzerland; and
    • Foreign nationals who possess a language certificate that meets the requirements of the Common European Framework (CEFR).



  • Noncompliance risks downgrading of permit. Foreign nationals who do not provide the specified language certificate and are not exempt may have their residence permit refused or downgraded from a C permit to a B permit. A downgrade to a B permit would result in a shorter allowable stay period and the removal of certain tax advantages. In this case, they would need to wait another five years before they can try to re-apply for the integration criteria and then for a C permit.
  • More document-gathering time. Foreign nationals should plan for additional time to submit applications and potential costs of completing language courses starting January 1, 2020.



  • Harmonization of rules. The new requirements harmonize the language rules across all cantons whereas previously, they varied by canton.
  • Existing language requirements. In January 2019, the State Secretariat for Migration implemented a requirement for foreign nationals to demonstrate the following language abilities based on their term of residence:
    • Dependents. Non-EU family members applying for B permits (which are long-term permits normally granted for stays exceeding 24 months) must prove they speak the official language in their canton at level A1 or provide evidence that they have enrolled in a language course to gain German, French or Italian skills at this level.
    • After five years of residence. Foreign nationals applying for a C permit (which grants permanent residence) after they have resided in Switzerland for five years are required to prove that they speak the official language in their canton at level B1 and have written skills at level A1 of CEFR.
    • After 10 years of residence. Foreign nationals applying for a C permit after 10 years of residence in Switzerland must demonstrate written skills at level A1 and oral skills at level A2 of the CEFR in the official language spoken in their canton.
    • Naturalisation. Foreign nationals applying for Swiss citizenship after a period of stay of 10 years (regular process) or five years (simplified process for spouses of Swiss nationals) must demonstrate written skills at level A2 and oral skills at level B1 of the CEFR in the official language spoken in their canton.
    • Integration agreements. B permit applicants may be required to sign a legally binding integration agreement if the local canton requires it.  An integration agreement is a contract stating that the foreign national meets language skill requirements and other civic responsibilities as outlined by the canton.
  • Reasons for language requirements. The rule to be introduced in January 2020 is in line with Switzerland’s commitment to promote integration and standardize the cantonal variation in language requirements as a result of those concerns.  For more information on the rules, access Fragomen’s blog on this topic.
  • Global trends. Concerns relating to integration are increasing across Europe. As a result, language requirements and strict documentary requirements are common for various jurisdictions in the region. For example, the United Kingdom requires sponsored workers applying for permanent residence after five years and their adult dependents to evidence their knowledge of the English language and life in the United Kingdom with specific documents which are enforced strictly.


Looking ahead

Swiss authorities are likely to increasingly assess integration and language skills for future applicants given the focus on this issue across the region.

Some uncertainty regarding the implementation of these requirements can be expected until January 1, 2020, when the standard language certificate requirements will come into effect. Fragomen will continue to report on relevant updates. 

This alert is for informational purposes only. If you have any questions, please contact the global immigration professional with whom you work at Fragomen or send an email to [email protected].