Photo: UNHCR

Asylum Procedure

Switzerland grants protection and a place to stay for individuals who are persecuted and subject to serious disadvantages in their country of origin or who cannot return there for other humanitarian reasons.

The video shows the asylum procedure from the asylum application to the decision redarding asylum.

In the asylum procedure, the authorities determine whether a person needs protection from Switzerland. The basic principles of the asylum procedure are described in the Directive III Asylum Sector (in French). The fundamental national laws on this subject matter are:

The fundamental international law instruments are:

The asylum application

Any statement from a foreign person indicating that he or she is seeking protection in Switzerland from persecution elsewhere is considered to be an application for asylum. The application is not subject to any formal criteria (unlike the asylum procedure). It can be submitted orally or in writing:

  • at a reception and processing centre,
  • at a border control point on the Swiss border, or
  • at a border control point at an international airport in Switzerland.

Most asylum applications are filed directly at one of the five Swiss reception and processing centres run by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM). The locations of these centres are listed below.

  • Basel (canton of Basel-Stadt)
  • Chiasso (canton of Ticino)
  • Vallorbe (canton of Vaud)
  • Altstätten (canton of St. Gallen)
  • Kreuzlingen (canton of Thurgau)

Switzerland abolished the “embassy procedure” in September 2012. That means it is no longer possible to file an asylum application at Swiss representations abroad. It can only be filed on Swiss territory (including the border control points).

Humanitarian visa

The humanitarian visa is the only way to be accepted into Switzerland for humanitarian reasons. This visa is intended for foreign nationals located abroad who want to file an asylum application in Switzerland because urgent humanitarian reasons necessitate their entry into Switzerland. Generally, a person can only apply for this type of visa from his/ or her country of origin, not from third countries.

If the asylum application is not filed directly at a reception and processing centre, the asylum seeker is generally assigned such a centre.

Airport procedure

If a person arrives from a non-Schengen country via the Zurich or Geneva airport and files his or her asylum application in the transit area of the airport, special rules apply to the asylum procedure (Art. 22 and 23 AsylA).  In these cases, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) decides first whether to authorise entry into Switzerland or temporarily deny it. In airport procedures, the asylum procedure (including appeal proceedings) is carried out in the transit zone of the airport.

Examination of the asylum application

The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) is responsible for handling asylum applications. Each asylum application is individually examined by the SEM.

Preparatory phase

After the asylum application is submitted, the preparatory phase begins. It lasts no longer than three weeks. The asylum seekers receive information about the asylum procedure before their asylum application is examined.

The SEM records the asylum seekers' personal data. Fingerprints can be taken and other biometric data can also be collected. The SEM verifies IDs such as travel and identity documents. The authorities can conduct further enquiries to clarify the asylum seekers' origin and identity. In the preparatory phase, the SEM also clarifies whether another state is responsible for processing the asylum application in accordance with the Dublin Regulation.

Inquiries about the person

The asylum seekers are asked about themselves in an initial, relatively brief interview conducted during the preparatory phase. The objective is to clarify issues on each asylum seeker’s identity, origin and living situation, as well as his or her itinerary and reasons for seeking asylum. If relevant, the reasons for a lack of identity documents are also clarified. If the SEM determines that another state is responsible for examining the asylum application within the Dublin system, the asylum seekers are given the chance to express their opinion on the matter. They are asked whether there are reasons not to transfer the proceedings to the responsible state (legal hearing).

Decision whether to deal with the application

After the initial questioning, the SEM determines whether the substance of the application can be verified. If it cannot be verified, the authority rejects the application by refusing it without a formal procedure or by issuing a decision that dismisses the application.

Jurisdiction

In actual practice, third-state and Dublin decisions are the most common. A decision is taken to dismiss the application if the asylum seekers can return to a safe third country or if another country is responsible for handling the asylum application within the Dublin system (to which Switzerland belongs).

In a Dublin procedure, a check is run prior to a possible deportation to determine whether deportation is permissible, reasonable and possible. In certain cases, Switzerland declares jurisdiction over the case for humanitarian reasons and assumes responsibility for examining the asylum application (exercising the so-called sovereignty clause).

Hearing

If Switzerland is responsible for the examination of an asylum application, the SEM starts the ordinary asylum procedure. In the ordinary asylum procedure, there is a hearing at which asylum seekers can give detailed accounts of their grounds for fleeing and furnish proof to the authorities (such as police summons, court rulings, medical certificates, photos, newspaper articles, etc.). All relevant issues should be clarified during this procedure. The decision regarding asylum is based on the hearings.

Determination of refugee status

After the hearing, the authority determines whether the asylum seeker meets the criteria for refugee status and whether to grant him or her asylum. If this is the case, asylum is granted. If the SEM thinks that the asylum seeker does not meet the requirements, it decides against granting him or her asylum. In a second step, the SEM verifies whether the asylum seeker can be deported from Switzerland.

The decision regarding asylum

Besides cancelling the application without a formal procedure, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) can render five different types of decisions regarding an asylum application.

Material decisions

Granting of asylum (decision in favour of granting asylum)

If asylum seekers credibly present their reasons for fleeing or if there is proof that they are persecuted in their native country or country of last residence in a way relevant to asylum law, they are recognised as refugees and, as a rule, are granted asylum. Refugees are not granted asylum if grounds for denying asylum exist (as per the Asylum Act).


Temporary admission as a refugee (decision against granting asylum with suspension of the enforcement of the removal order)

If there are grounds for denying asylum under the Swiss Asylum Act to a person who otherwise meets the requirements of refugee status under international law, the SEM shall dismiss the asylum application. The SEM (formally) orders the person’s removal from Switzerland. The enforcement of the removal order is impermissible under international law in these cases, however, because there is a ban on refoulement under Art. 33 para. 1 of the Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Enforcement of the removal order is therefore suspended. That means the removal is postponed and the person is temporarily admitted to Switzerland as a refugee.


Temporary admission (decision against granting asylum with suspension of the enforcement of the removal order)

If the asylum seeker is not persecuted in his or her country of origin in a manner relevant to asylum or if grounds exist for denying refugee status (under the Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees), the SEM shall reject the asylum application. If the SEM determines in a second step that the asylum seeker’s return to his or her country of origin is not permitted, not reasonable or not possible and the removal order can therefore not be enforced, the SEM shall order temporary admission.


Rejection (decision against granting asylum with removal order)

If the asylum seeker is not persecuted in his or her country of origin in a manner relevant to asylum or if no grounds exist against removal to his or her country of origin, the SEM shall order removal. The authority sets a time period within which the asylum seeker must leave Switzerland.

Formal decisions

Decision to dismiss the application

The SEM does not deal with the substance of the asylum application if the authority determines that the asylum seeker

  1. is not deemed a refugee because only economic or medical reasons are cited for the application (the Asylum Act says the application is not an asylum application in such cases);
  2. can travel to a third country (Schengen/Dublin member) that is responsible for conducting his/her asylum procedure;
  3. can return to a safe third country;

A decision to dismiss the application results in the person having to leave Switzerland without his or her refugee status being examined.

Cancellations

Cancellations constitute a special type of decision. For persons who fail to cooperate with the authorities without valid reason (that is, fail to comply with their duty to cooperate), the asylum procedure is abandoned. A procedure can also be ended if an asylum seeker fails to make him- or herself available to the authorities for more than 20 days. In these cases, asylum applications are cancelled without a formal decision being taken. Multiple applications that are unfounded or that always repeat the same grounds are also cancelled without a formal decision being taken.

Appeal

If a person is not granted asylum, he or she can submit an appeal to the Federal Administrative Court by the filing deadline or have his or her representative submit one. A (formal or material) decision against granting asylum can be appealed. The Federal Administrative Court decides as the court of second and last instance. This means a person can appeal a decision against the granting of asylum only once except in the case of appeals on points of law (Revisionsverfahren).