As part of a revision of the rules related to foreigners in Switzerland the federal government has concluded discussions around cutting welfare entitlements for nationals from much of the world, reported the newspaper Le Matin.
Discussions on restricting the welfare paid to some foreigners, which have been going on for some time, concluded on 3 May 2022.
The resulting plan aims to cut the amounts of welfare paid in the first three years of residence. It would not affect EU nationals and others covered under the European free movement rules.
Put together by the federal department overseeing social welfare, the plan would in effect create a two-tiered welfare system where recently arrived foreign citizens would be entitled to less than everyone else.
Since January 2019, when a new package of laws came into force, the risks associated with taking welfare payments have increased. Receiving welfare can stand in the way of naturalisation and in some cases lead to the loss of residency rights. In some cantons even foreign nationals born and raised in Switzerland risk losing their right to remain in Switzerland if they collect welfare. This often means foreigners in Switzerland are reluctant to ask for financial support. OSEO, an organisation that offers training to aid social and professional integration, estimates that there are around 60,000 foreigners in Switzerland who do not seek welfare for this reason. A representative of the organisation said the government’s plan would worsen the phenomenon and thwart integration.
Welfare has become a divisive political subject in Switzerland as the amount spent on it rises. Between 2010 and 2019, the cost of welfare in Switzerland rose 47% to CHF 2.8 billion. Because foreigners from beyond the EU (8.8%) are around 3 times more likely to be on welfare than Swiss (2.3%) and citizens of EU countries (2.8%) they are an obvious target for any cost cutting.
In Switzerland, the effect of higher welfare spending on taxes is often easy to see. In small municipalities, a small rise in the number of people on welfare can nudge up municipal tax rates, which are revised annually. This can upset existing residents and create political friction between municipalities and cantons, which have the upper hand in shaping where people live.
At the same time a parliamentary initiative aims to secure the rights of those who have resided legally in Switzerland for 10 years. Under the proposal anyone with 10 years continuous residence would not risk losing residency rights after receiving welfare. While a parliamentary commission supports this move a commission for the Council of States, Switzerland’s upper house, does not.