(MENAFN – Swissinfo) Many immigrants in Switzerland have been devastated by the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The new rules mean that many people are afraid of taking welfare. This is a situation that needs to be changed, said integration expert Francesca Chukwunyere.
This content was published on July 24, 2020 – 09:00 July 24, 2020 – 09:00 Patricia Islas
A journalist at Swiss Radio International, a predecessor to SWI swissinfo.ch, began in 1999. Started as an investigative journalist and TV reporter in Mexico.
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(id) “The fear of leaving Switzerland is greater”
(id) “Fear of having to leave Switzerland to grow”
(id) Francesca Chukwunyere: “The fear of leaving Switzerland is getting stronger
In January 2019, the Federal Law on Foreign Citizens and Integration was revised to extend the requirements for granting a residence permit. For example, the social security office is obliged to report the names of people who receive benefits to local immigration officials. Depending on the individual situation, the authorities may decide to hold an annual residence permit or decrease the permanent residence permit, Chukwunyere explained.
The ethnologist is the deputy director of the isa immigration advisory center in Bern.
swissinfo.ch: What is currently the biggest concern among foreigners who come to your organization for advice?
Francesca Chukwunyere: Fall into poverty and fear of having to leave Switzerland as a result. This pandemic highlights and exacerbates the problem that has been raging for some time – the amendment to the Federal Law on Foreign Citizens and Integration means that many people decide not to take welfare because they fear this will put their residence permits at risk.
Francisca Chukwunyere (58) was born in Bern as a German citizen. At the age of 20, he became a Swiss citizen. He has worked on immigration matters for 20 years, also as head of the “isa” advice center for foreigners in Bern, and in 2019 became a member of the Bern city council. swissinfo.ch
swissinfo.ch: Who are you talking about actually?
FC: People employed on relatively insecure requirements. These are the majority of the foreign workforce who are in temporary work arrangements, or so-called “poor workers”. So low-income families are very dependent on two or three incomes to feed their children.
These people felt a double or triple pandemic effect. They are the first to be overused or have their work hours cut. A single mother who is paid hourly as a cashier, for example. Or masons with low wages.
They are migrants who are now afraid of losing their residence permit.
swissinfo.ch: How do they avoid this amid the economic crisis?
FC: Some avoid taking any social benefits, so not only direct income support, but also additional benefits such as discounts on health insurance or support for eligible childcare for low-income people.
This payment can be counted as social welfare in some cantons, although that is not the norm.
This has caused a lot of insecurity among strangers. They don’t want to make mistakes or take any risks because for most of them, maintaining the right to stay is their top priority.
We must not forget that from January 2019, the social security office was required to report the names of people who received social welfare or additional benefits to local immigration officials. And depending on the individual situation, this authority may decide to withhold annual residence permits from foreigners, or replace permanent residence permits with annual permits. Changes to the law even affect foreigners who have lived in Switzerland for more than 15 years.
swissinfo.ch: What can your organization do to alleviate this concern?
FC: We have to explain many times what is permitted by law and what is not. However, we are not always sure of ourselves what is permitted, because this new law gives plenty of space for cities and cantons to maneuver. There are some situations that are not set to the last detail. And the law can be interpreted in various ways.
So far, very few cases have been handled by the Swiss Federal Court. So there is some legal uncertainty for us too. We are not always 100% sure that what we think we understand is valid. The same is true for colleagues at other advisory centers and social service offices.
swissinfo.ch: What will make it clearer?
FC: There will only be clarity when the case comes to court. And this is difficult, because if foreigners bring immigration authorities to court, then he, in a sense, challenges the country that takes him.
We believe that it is very important to suspend the population procedures connected with social welfare and the Foreign Citizenship Law for the time being, until the crisis caused by the pandemic ends.
When poverty and financial assistance hamper integration
In addition to the impact of social welfare on residence permits, Swiss civil law states the following (since 2018): anyone who has received social welfare in the three years immediately before submitting his citizenship or receiving social welfare while submitting his citizenship is being carried out. processed does not meet the required participation standards in economic life, unless social welfare is fully restored (Article.7)
Most of the 26 cantons follow this three-year rule, except for Basel-Country and Thurgau, which has extended it to five years, and Bern, Aargau and Graubünden, which have raised it to 10 years.
Against this background of law, and given the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, federal authorities have advised the territorial immigration authority to consider this extraordinary situation and ensure that those affected are not disadvantaged by the situation.
At the federal level, the parliamentary initiative presented in June aims to amend the Foreign Citizenship and Integration Act to prevent people who have lived in Switzerland for more than 10 years from being forced to leave the country because they are recipients of social welfare.
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