Photo: Bernd Konrad/Swiss Refugee Council

Asylum Seekers

All asylum seekers receive a document certifying their presence in Switzerland, known as the N-Permit.

The N-Permit is not a residence permit but rather a confirmation that the person has applied for asylum in Switzerland and is waiting for the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) to issue a decision. Special provisions apply to airport procedures.

Right to stay in Switzerland

Asylum seekers may stay in Switzerland until the conclusion of the procedure (Art. 42 AsylA). In the event of a removal order without temporary admission, the person may stay in Switzerland until the departure deadline.

If an asylum seeker has been in Switzerland for at least five years, he or she can apply for recognition as a hardship case under certain circumstances. If hardship recognition is granted, the person obtains a residence permit (Art. 14 para. 2 AsylA).

Place of residence

Asylum seekers who request asylum at the border or within Switzerland shall normally be assigned to a reception and processing centre (Art. 21 para. 1 AsylA). The stay in a reception and processing centre can last up to 90 days, sometimes even longer (Art. 16 para. 2 AsylO 1). After that, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) assigns the asylum seekers to a canton. The cantonal authorities are responsible for providing lodging and a Place of residence. A cantonal assignment is generally not made if the SEM issues an adverse asylum decision with a removal order or dismisses the application while the person is still in a reception and processing centre  (Art. 27 und 28 AsylA).

Special rules for airports

Special regulations pertain to applications for asylum filed before the border control at an airport. The applicants are usually not assigned to a canton in this case. In other words, if a person flies into Switzerland on a plane from a non-Schengen state, files an application for asylum at the airport and is provisionally denied entry into Switzerland, the entire asylum procedure is generally conducted in the transit zone of the airport (Art. 22 and 23 AsylA).

Special rules on the place and duration of stay also apply to those who are part of the test procedure being carried out at the federal centre in Zurich.

Contesting the cantonal assignment

Asylum seekers may only contest their assignment to a certain canton if it violates the principle of family unity or would subject the asylum seekers concerned or further persons to a serious threat.  A cantonal assignment is only allowed to be changed on request and under the condition that both cantons involved agree (Art. 27 para. 3 AsylA; Art. 22 AsylO 1).

The SEM or cantonal authorities can assign asylum seekers a Place of residence and accommodations. Most are collective accommodations (Art. 28 AsylA).

Gainful employment and education

For the first three months of their stay, asylum seekers are not entitled to engage in gainful employment. If the SEM denies the application for asylum within this period, the authorities may extend this waiting period for a further three months (Art. 43 para. 1 AsylA).

Requirements

The person may engage in gainful employment thereafter if the following requirements are met (Art. 52 Ordinance on Admission, Stay and Gainful Employment (OASGE)):

  • If the general situation in the economy and on the labour market allows;
  • If an employer asks to hire the asylum seeker;
  • and complies with the usual local wage and working conditions of the given industry; and
  • If it is determined that no one else with the requested qualifications profile can be hired for the position. In other words, a check must be made to see if the position can be given to a person with a Swiss passport or with a residence or settlement permit or to a citizen of a country with which an agreement on the free movement of people exists (“principle of lower priority access to the labour market for asylum seekers”).

More difficult conditions

If the economic situation and the labour market allow, asylum seekers can be permitted to change jobs under the same conditions (Art. 64 para. 1 Ordinance on Admission, Stay and Gainful Employment (OASGE)). Actual practice shows that these conditions make it much more difficult for asylum seekers to engage in gainful employment. Asylum seekers can participate in charitable occupational programmes regardless of the temporary ban on employment (Art. 43 para. 4 AsylA). The authorisation to engage in gainful employment expires on expiry of the departure deadline at the end of the asylum procedure. 

Special charge

Since 01.01.2018 the special charge amounting to 10 per cent of earned income of asylum seekers in addition to regular taxes is abolished.

Asylum seekers must still disclose their assets (Art. 87 AsylA). The authorities may confiscate such assets for the purposes of reimbursing the costs incurred in the asylum procedure (Art. 86 AsylA).

Basic education

Children of asylum seekers have the right to adequate and free basic education (Art. 19 Federal Constitution (FC)). However, this is not always available as long as asylum seekers are still in a federal centre or in the transit zone of an airport.

Welfare, children allowances and health insurance

Asylum seekers unable to maintain themselves from their own resources shall receive the necessary social benefits unless third parties are required to support them (Art. 81 AsylA). The social benefits should be rendered in kind as non-cash benefits if possible. They are less than the social benefits given to the local population (Art. 82 para. 3 AsylA). They can be as much as 40 per cent below the guidelines of the Swiss Conference for Social Assistance (SCSA).

Exclusion from social assistance

If an asylum seeker receives a removal order and the departure deadline is set, he or she is excluded from social assistance. The same holds true for persons who have filed a request for re-examination or review proceedings or a new application for asylum (multiple applications). This provision also applies if the removal order was stopped (Art. 82 para. 1 and 2 AsylA).

Limited choice of health insurance funds, physicians and hospitals

Asylum seekers must be insured against illness (Art. 3 Health Insurance Act (HIA)). However, the cantons may limit the choice of insurers and of physicians and hospitals for asylum seekers (Art. 82a para. 2 to 5 AsylA).

Child allowances

Child allowances for asylum seekers' children living abroad shall be withheld during asylum procedures. They shall be paid when the asylum seeker is recognised as a refugee or temporarily admitted (Art. 84 AsylA).

Family reunification

Asylum seekers and their families have no right to family reunification during the asylum procedure.

Integration measures

Asylum seekers and their families have no right to the integration measures subsidised by the Confederation (Art. 18 Ordinance on the Integration of Foreign Nationals (OIFN); Art. 55 para. 2 FNA).

Travel abroad

Basically speaking, no travel abroad is allowed for the duration of the asylum procedure. In exceptional cases, asylum seekers can apply to the SEM for permission to travel to a third country. 

Exceptions

Serious illness or the death of a close family member is deemed to be an exceptional case. Other reasons may include, for example, obligatory, cross-border school trips of the children or active participation in sport or cultural events abroad  (Art. 9 para. 1 Ordinance on the Issuing of Travel Documents for Foreign Nationals (OITDFN)).

Asylum seekers returning to their country of origin risk having their application for asylum rejected.