Swiss canton eyes scrapping German-language requirement for wealthy foreigners

Fri Nov 6, 2015 8:03pm EST
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By John Miller

ZURICH (Reuters) - Lawmakers in the Swiss canton where fugitive trader Marc Rich took refuge and which Glencore calls home may try to ease the path to permanent residency for some foreigners by scrapping a German language requirement - as long as they've got enough money.

The canton of Zug, with 120,000 residents, now requires that foreigners from countries including Russia, South Africa and the United States learn German if they want to obtain permanent residency.

Some well-heeled foreign residents have balked at this demand, however, leaving Zug worried that they make take their money elsewhere, just as local financial officials expect a 2016 budget deficit of 26.3 million Swiss francs ($26.4 million).

"The canton of Zug is small, and it impacts us when people with significant income and wealth move away," Beat Villiger, an elected member of Zug's government, told Reuters. "And Zug is currently grappling with austerity measures."

Under a plan backed by the local Swiss People's Party and FDP factions, those seeking permanent residency would be allowed to skip German lessons if they earn 1 million francs annually and have taxable assets of 20 million francs.

The less-wealthy would still be put through their paces in the German classroom.

Those in favor of the plan face hurdles, however.

The two factions backing the plan hold just less than half of the 80 seats in the local parliament, so they would need to peel off a few votes from other parties to push it through.   Continued...

Cows stand on a meadow with the Swiss town of Zug, Switzerland with the Swiss Alps in the background in this August 2, 2013 file picture. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/Files