Photo: Bernd Konrad/Swiss Refugee Council

Asylum Procedure in Short

This flowchart explains the asylum procedure and all its individual steps. The steps through which asylum seekers go vary according to the course and outcome of their procedure.

Flowchart on asylum procedure from the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) (in French)

There are many reasons why people have to leave their native country and seek protection in Switzerland. They face a threat to life and limb, their liberty is being suppressed or extreme living conditions are exerting intolerable psychological pressure.

Entry into Switzerland

Asylum applications can only be filed in Switzerland or at a point of entry along the border. They can no longer be filed abroad.

Procedure at the airport

A person who flies into Switzerland on a plane from a non-Schengen state and files an application for asylum must remain in the transit zone of the airport for the entire asylum procedure.  The asylum application is then processed by the airport police. The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) decides whether to authorise entry into Switzerland or temporarily deny it. If entry is denied, the entire asylum procedure is generally conducted in the transit zone of the airport.

Reception and processing centre

Most asylum seekers enter Switzerland by land. Anyone who enters Switzerland by land or is already in Switzerland, must file his or her application in one of the five federal reception and processing centres. They are located in Basel, Chiasso, Kreuzlingen, Vallorbe and Altstätten. Asylum seekers are registered at these centres. Their fingerprints are taken and their identity papers are seized.

In addition, they undergo a brief interview in which they are asked about themselves. They are asked about their travel routes, about their reasons for seeking asylum, their languages, their identities, about earlier places of residence and about their age. Various aspects of their state of health might also be clarified. If the authorities have doubts about the information provided by an asylum seeker, they seek further clarification.

Decision to dismiss the application

After the initial interview, the State Secretariat for Migration SEM (formerly the Federal Office for Migration) decides whether Switzerland must conduct a substantive examination of the asylum application or whether another state is responsible for doing so (the so-called Dublin procedure). The SEM does not examine the substance of the application either if it was filed solely for economic or medical reasons or if the asylum seeker can return to a safe third country.

Procedures based on the Dublin Regulation occur quite frequently in actual practice. The most common case in which it applies is when a person enters another Dublin state by illegally crossing an external border (Dublin states include EU member states as well as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein). There are also other criteria governing which state takes responsibility, e.g., if a state allows legal entry (with a visa). The criteria relating to safeguarding the unity of the family are supposed to be given priority in the Dublin procedure but are seldom applied in actual practice.

In the above cases, the Swiss authorities decide to dismiss the asylum application. As a result, the contents of the asylum application are not processed and the persons involved usually have to leave Switzerland again very quickly.

Transit centre – Conducting the asylum procedure

If the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) needs more time to issue a decision on the asylum application, asylum seekers are assigned to a canton. At this point, asylum seekers are given an N-Permit. It serves as an ID until a decision is made on the asylum application.

The cantons allocate accommodations to the asylum seekers. Asylum seekers have a right to the legal minimum of social assistance. They can obtain a work permit three months after filing their asylum application, at the earliest.

After asylum seekers are assigned to a canton, a second, more in-depth interview is usually conducted with them. During this interview, asylum seekers have a chance to explain in detail their reasons for fleeing and to document this flight with proof (e.g. police summons, court rulings, medical attestations or photos, etc.). Official notes are taken of this hearing and the asylum seeker must confirm their accuracy with his or her signature. If the hearing fails to clarify all relevant points, further clarifications can be undertaken.

Based on the information that has been collected, the SEM then determines whether the person can be recognised as a refugee and granted asylum. If a person is not granted asylum, the SEM then determines whether he or she can be removed to his or her native country or country of origin.

Positive decision – Granting of asylum

If a person’s refugee status is recognised, he or she is usually granted asylum. The asylum application is approved and the person receives a B-Permit and a refugee travel document in accordance with the Geneva Refugee Convention. Spouses and minor children are allowed to enter Switzerland and are also granted asylum. Refugees can work in all sectors but they need a work permit.

Temporary admission (decision against granting asylum without removal order)

Persons who were not granted asylum but whose removal from Switzerland cannot be enforced because it is not permitted, not reasonable or not possible are granted temporary admission. Further explanations:

  • Enforcement of the removal order is not permitted if it contradicts Swiss obligations under international law;
  • Enforcement of the removal order is not reasonable if it is precluded for humanitarian reasons (due to war or civil war or for medical reasons); and
  • Enforcement of the removal order is not possible if it cannot be undertaken for technical reasons.

Persons are also temporarily admitted who are recognised refugees but excluded from asylum because they are deemed unworthy of refugee status, for example (they endanger Switzerland’s internal or external security) or owing to subjective post-flight grounds (if they became refugees only by leaving their country of origin or due to their conduct after their departure).

Temporarily admitted persons receive an F-Permit and a refugee travel document in accordance with the Geneva Refugee Convention. Spouses and minor children are allowed to enter Switzerland and are also granted asylum. Refugees can work in all sectors but they need a work permit. The duration of stay of temporarily admitted persons in Switzerland is largely identical with that of recognised refugees living in Switzerland.

Decision against granting asylum with removal order

If asylum seekers are not granted asylum and nothing stands legally in the way of their return to their native countries or countries of origin, the application for asylum is rejected and the persons involved must leave Switzerland by the departure deadline that is set.

Appeal

If asylum seekers do not agree with the SEM decision, they – or their legal counsel – can file appeals with the Federal Administrative Court. The appeal period for substantial asylum decisions is 30 days. If the SEM decides to dismiss the application or issues a negative asylum decision at the airport, an appeal must be filed within five workdays. The Federal Administrative Court is the first and also the last appellate instance in asylum cases.