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Switzerland is a federal state (although, for historical reasons, it is called a Confederation). State institutions span several levels: at the federal level, there are the parliament, courts and bureaucratic authorities. In addition, there are subdivisions called Cantons.

The following are the two main authorities that act as the “police for foreigners”. Their task is to monitor population flows within the country. They formulate policies on control, issue directives, make decisions and ask the “real” (armed) police to carry out decisions.

State Secretariat for Migration – (SEM)The federal administration for migration. It replaced the Office for Migration (FOM) in 2014. It is the body responsible for issuing directives and making decisions that fall under the federal remit in migration matters. Although it is an extremely important and powerful institution, students will rarely have direct contact with the SEM, which acts as an overseer of cantonal authorities (a sort of “police of the police”).

Cantonal Office of Population and Migration (OCPM): This is the cantonal migration authority in Geneva. It acts like the SEM, issuing directives and making decisions, but at the level of the Canton. In practical terms, it is the authority that foreign students have to deal with most often once they arrive in Geneva. This is its address:

88, Route de Chancy
P.O. Box 2652
1211 Geneva 2
Foreign nationals’ service call centre
tel. : +41 22 546 46 03
fax : +41 22 546 48 10

In addition, educational institutions sometimes operate as public administrations. The University of Geneva (UNIGE), for example, enjoys a certain degree of autonomy from the Canton’s administration, but remains a state entity subject to the University Act (LU). Its adminstrative decisions can be critical in migration matters, especially for non-European students as regards their admission or expulsion from a course of study.

The Health Insurance Service (SAM) plays a very important role. It is the office to which students who need to apply for exemptions must go.

Its contact details in Geneva are (website in French) :

Service de l’assurance-maladie
Route de Frontenex 62
1207 Geneva
tel. +41 22 546 19 00