May 292016

Please note: I am not an immigration attorney and this is not legal advice. These are recommendations based on personal experience in Canton Vaud. Each canton has different laws and interpretations of federal laws.

While discussing going to university outside of Switzerland, I hear anecdotes about non-Swiss students losing Swiss residency in the process. Even EU-passport holders and students in the middle of applying for citizenship have been unable to regain a residency permit after their education. Once Swiss residency doors close to young adults, it is difficult to reopen those doors.

This does not have to happen and many (most?) students maintain their residency while they go to university abroad. Be careful to avoid some pitfalls or risk loosing a student’s right to live in Switzerland after completing their higher education outside of the country.

Even expats who plan to move on before their child finishes university are wise to maintain their student’s residency on the chance the situation changes. Some students end up returning home well before they complete higher education for a myriad of reasons including adjustment issues, lack of a good match with the course or university, extended illness, or academic failure. switzerland-1179029_1280

The scenario to avoid

Your non-Swiss child decides to attend university outside of Switzerland. You deregister your student at your commune when they leave.  This allows you to cancel Swiss health insurance if the student must purchase health insurance where he or she attends university. Years pass, your student travels back and forth for holidays, completes their education, and is ready to return to Switzerland to work and continue life. Then bad news cancels your excitement! Your student, well over 18 by now, learns they are ineligible to resume Swiss residency and live in Switzerland. They can still visit you but they travel as a tourist with the limitations that implies.

Recommended steps

Here are some recommendations in order to maintain residency while a student studies abroad:

  1. If at all possible, the student should not deregister with the commune for this reason. Even if the student needs residency in another country, such as in the UK to qualify for “home” fees, there is usually no reason to give up Swiss residency.
  2. Since maintaining Swiss health insurance is a condition of residency, do not cancel the student’s insurance even if they must purchase it in the country where they attend university. Consider a less expensive plan for the student, or drop supplementary health insurance while a policy in another country covers the student.
  3. Make minimum AVS payments when contacted by the government, around the year the student turns 21. This currently costs about 500.00 CHF per year.
  4. Finally some good news! Continue to file for the cantonal family allowance after your student leaves Switzerland for university. Technically, parents in Canton Vaud can file until a dependent student reaches age 26 if they are still in school. However, in some cases you may only be able to collect for the first year they are gone. You need a proof of attendance from the student’s university, but this is standard documentation and should be readily available.
  5. Maintain records – including receipts when available – of your student’s trips to and from Switzerland. Having this information can help build a stronger case if a student’s residency status is questioned by the authorities.

Keeping your student’s participation in the official Swiss “systems” demonstrates that their departure is temporary and supports the case for maintaining their residency.

Seek professional advice ahead of time if possible

Some communes are not familiar with these types of situations, especially if they are not directly addressed by immigration law. Your family’s timing in the residency or naturalization process could also factor into deciding the best approach. Consider talking to a recommended immigration attorney to review your student’s plans.

Do you have feedback on this advice?

Many families are confused about what they should do about residency when their child studies abroad and we had a difficult time deciding on the best path. If you disagree with these recommendations, have feedback on this article, or experience to share, please comment below or send me a private message so that I can improve this information.Thank you.


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