Swiss finalise decision on ‘S permit’ for Ukrainian refugees

Swiss Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter (second from right) in Bern on Friday. Keystone / Anthony Anex

Ukrainians fleeing the war will be eligible for a temporary S permit to live and immediately work in Switzerland. The permit, initially valid for a year, has never before been activated.

This content was published on March 11, 2022 minutes

In announcing the introduction of the S permit as of tomorrow (Saturday), the government confirmed what it mooted last week, and for which it has since received wide backing from cantons, cities, and municipalities.

The S statusExternal link – for “people in need of protection” – will free the expected large numbers of Ukrainian refugees from case-by-case asylum procedures, and will facilitate an “unbureaucratic” and “speedy” process, Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter said on Friday.

The initial validity of the permit will be for one year, and the expectation is that many people will leave Switzerland again once the conflict has ended. However, since it is unclear how long this might take, the permits can also be extended.

As for the details of who exactly is eligible, it’s not just Ukrainian citizens: others fleeing the country can also apply – if they were already living legally in Ukraine, and if they cannot safely return to their home country.

However, those who first receive protection in another European Union country cannot later apply for an S permit. On Friday, Keller-Sutter said the status is “similar” to the conditions of the EU’s Temporary Protection DirectiveExternal link, agreed by member states last week.

Those who receive the Swiss permit can meanwhile begin working – as an employee or independently – straight away, the government said. The usual three-month waiting period has been scrapped. They will also enjoy freedom of movement within the Schengen Area.

Flexible and pragmatic

“The challenge for federal and cantonal authorities is that many Ukrainian refugees could arrive in Switzerland, but we don’t know how many or when. We have to remain flexible and pragmatic, and to work together,” Keller-Sutter said.

In a separate interview with Blick TV yesterday, the Justice Minister said that up to 60,000 Ukrainians could come. The UN says more than 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine since the war started. The majority, around 1.5 million people, have travelled to Poland.

Some 2,100 Ukrainians have registered with Swiss authorities since the outbreak of war on February 24. Around two-thirds are currently staying in federal asylum centres; one-third are in private households.

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