Record numbers sign up for Swiss Erasmus replacement

More people than ever are taking part in Switzerland’s study abroad scheme, despite the fact the country is no longer a full member of the EU’s Erasmus programme.

Record numbers sign up for Swiss Erasmus replacement
File photo: Francisco Osorio

Switzerland has previously participated in Erasmus, which was set up in the 1980s to facilitate student exchange between European countries.

But following the country’s anti-immigration referendum in 2014, which approved the principle of quotas on immigration, the EU suspended Switzerland’s membership of Erasmus+ (the scheme's 2014-2020 incarnation), saying the country’s stance was no longer compatible with the programme, which depends on the principle of free movement of people.

Later that year Switzerland announced an interim solution allowing it to offer student exchange as an Erasmus+ ‘partner country’ rather than a full member, by arranging a series of bilateral agreements with individual European universities under the new Swiss-European Mobility Programme (SEMP) banner.

As it no longer receives funding from Brussels, Switzerland must fund the scheme itself, supporting both Swiss students who wish to study in another country and foreign students who want to come to Switzerland – a requirement if Switzerland wants its own students to be able to study elsewhere.

In 2016 the federal government allocated 25.1 million  francs ($25.6 million) to the task, funding a record 10,781 Swiss students and foreigners on study and vocational training placements, said Foundation ch, which is currently charged with running the SEMP scheme in Switzerland.

That’s a 12 percent increase on last year’s 9,650 students, funded by a budget of 23.9 million francs.

8,650 of this year’s exchanges are at tertiary level, up from 7,874 in 2015, an increase “principally explained by a more generous budget this year,” said the foundation.

Among 2016’s cohort, 4,789 Swiss students travelled to higher education institutions elsewhere and 3,861 came to Switzerland.

The success of Switzerland’s new study abroad arrangements will be of interest to Britain, whose future in Erasmus has also been thrown into question since it voted to leave the EU in June.

As for Switzerland, it  has until February 2017 to find a way of implementing quotas on immigration without upsetting its relationship with the EU.

Should a bilateral solution be found that satisfies both parties, it’s possible that Switzerland’s membership of Erasmus+ may be reinstated.

A newly established Swiss government body, the Swiss Foundation for the Promotion of Exchange and Mobility (SFAM) will take over running SEMP from January 1st 2017.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

In Sweden, a sambo is domestic partner – someone you’re in a relationship with and live with, but to whom you aren’t married. If you, as a non-EU citizen, are in a sambo relationship with a Swedish citizen, you can apply for a residence permit on the basis of that relationship. But meeting the requirements of that permit is not always straightforward.

Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

An American reader, whose son lives with his Swedish partner, wrote to The Local with questions about the maintenance requirement her son and his partner must meet in order to qualify for a sambo resident permit.

“Their specific issue is that they meet the requirements for a stable relationship and stable housing, but have been told that qualifying for a sambo visa based on savings is unlikely,” she wrote, asking for suggestions on how to approach this issue. Her son’s partner is a student with no income, but whose savings meet maintenance requirements. But, they have been told by lawyers that Migrationsverket will likely deny the application based on the absence of the Swedish partner’s income.

How do relationships qualify for sambo status?

In order to apply for a residence permit on the basis of a sambo relationship, you and your partner must either be living together, or plan to live together as soon as the non-Swedish partner can come to Sweden. Because this reader’s son is already in Sweden as a graduate student, he can apply for a sambo permit without having to leave the country, provided that his student permit is still valid at the time the new application is submitted.

The Migration Agency notes that “you can not receive a residence permit for the reason that you want to live with a family member in Sweden before your current permit expires”. So once your valid permit is close to expiration, you can apply for a new sambo permit.

What are the maintenance requirements for a sambo permit?

The maintenance requirements for someone applying for a sambo permit fall on the Swedish partner, who must prove that they are able to support both themselves and their partner for the duration of the permit. This includes both housing and financial requirements.

In terms of residential standards that applicants must meet, they must show that they live in a home of adequate size – for two adult applicants without children, that means at least one room with a kitchen. If rented, the lease must be for at least one year.

The financial requirements are more complicated. The Swedish partner must be able to document a stable income that can support the applicant and themselves – for a sambo couple, the 2022 standard is an income of 8,520 kronor per month. This burden falls on the Swedish partner.

While the Migration Agency’s website does say that you may “fulfil the maintenance requirement (be considered able to support yourself) if you have enough money/taxable assets to support yourself, other persons in your household and the family members who are applying for a residence permit for at least two years”, it is unclear how proof of this would be documented. On a separate page detailing the various documents that can be used to prove that maintenance requirements are met, there is nothing about how to document savings that will be used to support the couple.

Can you apply on the basis of savings instead of income?

Well, this is unclear. The Migration Agency’s website does suggest that having enough money saved up to support both members of the sambo relationship is an option, but it gives no details on how to document this. It is also unclear whether applying on the basis of savings will disadvantage applicants, with preference given to applicants who can show proof of income from work.

The Local has reached out to an immigration lawyer to answer this question.