Reunification with children

In accordance with the dual system of Swiss immigration policies, two different sets of regulations apply for family unification as well, depending on the nationality of the person seeking reunification with the children and/or the place of residence of those children.

Children of Swiss citizens from third countries:

Swiss citizens’ foreign children who do not have Swiss citizenship and are under the age of 18 have a claim to be granted a residence permit and to have that permit renewed if they live together with the parents. If the mother or the father became a Swiss citizen through naturalization, then the foreign child under the age of 18 only has a claim to a residence permit and does not automatically become a Swiss citizen.However, such a child has the option of simplified naturalisation under art 31a BüG.

Stepchildren of Swiss citizens from third countries

If the foreign citizen has children from a previous relationship (that is, stepchildren of the Swiss spouse), and if these children have until now lived with him her abroad, an application for family unification must be submitted to the cantonal authorities with jurisdiction if the children wish to live with their parent in Switzerland. In other words, the parent who has custody (for joint custody, the other parent must consent to the child or children being brought along to Switzerland) may have the child brought to Switzerland.

Children under the age of 12 must be brought to Switzerland within five years of the parents’ or parent’s arrival or of the time the family relationship begins (acknowledgement, adoption, etc.). Children over the age of 12 must be brought to Switzlerland within one year. Family unification will only be approved later if there are “significant familial reasons” (e.g. a change in the child-care situation, death of the person with custody, etc.). The older the child, the more compelling the arguments for having the child come to Switzerland and not being cared for at home any more must be. The desire for a good education, for example, is not sufficient.

Children and step-children of Swiss citizens from  EU/EFTA countries:

If the children already have a residence permit for an EU/EFTA country, then the provisions of the agreement on the free movement of persons apply.
 In accordance with that agreement, reunification with children and grandchildren up to the age of 21 (as well as of ascending family members for whom coverage of living expenses is ensured) may be carried out. Living together is not compulsory and there are no deadlines for the reunification.

Legal situation of children brought to Switzerland

Children of Swiss citizens that are under the age of 12 receive a permanent residence permit. Older children receive a temporary residence permit. After five years they can apply for a permanent residence permit, provided the parent’s matrimonial relationship still exists.

Visiting rights

If the children live abroad, depending on the geographical distance, it may only be possible to exercise visiting rights to a limited degree. In this case, an acceptable solution needs to be found for everyone involved. If the parents cannot agree, a court order can be sought in terms of child law. In this case, questions need to be clarified, such as: who will cover travel costs for the children if they exercise their visiting rights? Who will accompany the children on these trips if they are still too young to travel on their own?