Can I Bring my Spouse or Family to Switzerland While on a Student Permit?
For a small country with only eight million residents, Switzerland certainly punches above its weight when it comes to international students. Overseas students represent nearly 19% of all students in the country, and the higher the education level, the more this increases. In fact, around 54% of doctoral students and 29% of master’s students in Switzerland are foreign. Many students come from countries on the immediate border, including Germany, France, and Italy, but an increasing number are coming from further afield, such as Russia and China.
Interestingly, according to Swissinfo.ch, international students in Switzerland are most interested in science courses, so much so that there are three times more foreign than Swiss students studying in the areas of natural sciences, mathematics and statistics.
Given that university students may spend several years in education, especially if they progress from undergraduate to postgraduate level, and then potentially PhD level. Many students will, therefore, want to bring their family members with them to Switzerland, however, there are some limitations under Swiss immigration law which should be understood first. In this article, we will discuss the rules which apply when bringing a spouse or family member to Switzerland if you are an international student.
Can I Bring a Spouse or Other Family Member to Switzerland as an International Student?
This depends if you are an EU/EFTA student, or if you are from outside of the EU/EFTA area.
Students from the EU/EFTA Area
Ordinarily, EU/EFTA citizens with a Swiss residence permit are allowed to bring family members to Switzerland as part of the ‘family reunification programme’. This includes a spouse, children, parents, and even grandparents, regardless of the nationality of the family member (i.e. they can come if they are from the EU or not). Students from the EU/EFTA area, however, are only able to bring their spouse/partner and children.
Family members must have a valid passport/travel ID to enter Switzerland, and must not pose a security threat to the country. This means that you must not have a criminal record. If they are from a Schengen country or a country that is a party to the Schengen agreement, then you will not require a visa to enter Switzerland. If they are from a country outside of the Schengen agreement, they may need to apply for an entry visa.
Once your family member has arrived in Switzerland, they will be given an EU/EFTA residence permit. The permit will also allow your family member to work, but it is required that they inform their local cantonal migration and labour market office before they commence work.
In the event of divorce or death
If a spouse from outside of the EU/EFTA is given a residence permit on the basis of their EU partner who is studying in Switzerland, and the couple later divorce or the EU/EFTA citizen dies while they are both in Switzerland, the non-EEA/EFTA citizen’s residence permit may be extended if:
- they were living together for three years in Switzerland,
- they have successfully integrated into Swiss society,
- or there is a genuine reason why they can’t return to their home country. 3
Once they have held a settlement permit for five or more continuous years, the spouse and their children over 12 retain will acquire the right to permanently settle in Switzerland.
Students from Outside of the EU/EFTA Areas
Unfortunately, in most cases, if you are an international student from outside of the EA/EFTA, you will not be able to bring your family members to join you in Switzerland while you are studying. This option is only available to those holding a settlement permit (permit C), not to temporary residence permit holders (as is the case for students). Students are typically given a Permit B, which allows them to stay for one year, and renew their permit annually as needed. Under this permit (and also for Permit L), there is no automatic right to bring your spouse or children to live with you as part of the family reunification program
There are some very limited exceptions, however; if you are a doctoral student, visiting professor, post-doctorate, or academic, you may be able to bring your family to Switzerland.
Regardless of your situation, if you are from outside of the EU/EFTA, and you want to bring a family member to be with you, you will need to contact your local cantonal migration office who will be able to advise you. In limited circumstances, they may allow your family member to come to Switzerland, but this is at their discretion, and policies may differ from canton to canton.
Who Can I Speak to for More Information?
In the first instance, if you have a general enquiry it is recommended to visit the Federal Office for Migration (FOM) website – this is the main government official site for information on all aspects of immigration to Switzerland.
They can also be contacted by phone on +41 58 465 11 11.
If you need assistance from a regional immigration department (each canton has its own cantonal immigration and labour market authority responsible for residence permits and can provide specific information on how to apply and the eligibility criteria which apply. A full list of Cantonal immigration and labour market authorities can be found online.
It is also advisable to speak to immigration Solicitors who will be able to advise you on any aspect of Swiss immigration policy and family reunification for those holding student visas.
The rules for international students bringing family members to Switzerland differ depending on whether you are from an EU/EFTA country or from outside. If you are unsure of how the policy applies to you and your family members, it is recommended you speak to the Swiss immigration authorities or to an immigration Solicitor.