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I have noticed, going by bus and train to Switzerland, that border guards will often check passports/visas of selected car/train passengers. Buses are also often stopped whereby a border guard boards and collects everyone's documents for scanning.

Particularly common, it seems, at the road checkpoints in Kreuzlingen (coming from Konstanz), Chiasso (coming from Milan), St Louis (coming from Mulhouse) and Thayngen (coming from Singen/Stuttgart), as well as the Hamburg-Zurich ICE train.

Is this the current norm at (some or all) Swiss land crossings? I've noticed it being the case even before the migrant crisis.

I've even heard of people who got refused entry to Switzerland by land because they forgot their EU residence permit.

Note that I'm not talking about customs checks, but immigration checks, similar to the ones performed by Sweden when arriving by train from Denmark

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    There are random checks at most of the big border check points. However, if you actually get checked might depend on your nationality, you route, the mean of travel, etc. For instance, I seem to look very innocent. I cross the border frequently by train or with my car but get checked maybe once every 10 years. – RoflcoptrException Oct 26 '16 at 6:12
  • @RoflcoptrException "However, if you actually get checked might depend on your nationality..." How exactly would they know that without checking your docs? – Crazydre Oct 26 '16 at 14:55
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    Well, I was a little bit unclear there. What they definitively do is for instance check the licence plate of your car. That I meant by nationality. – RoflcoptrException Oct 26 '16 at 14:57
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    Not to say this doesn't happen (France notoriously does it regularly on the border with Italy) but, check or no check, refusing entry is a questionable course of action. The Schengen Borders code clearly forbids border checks. ID checks are still possible but the logical conclusion if someone does not have proper documentation or appears to be there illegally is to detain them to check their status or start the procedure to remove them, not bounce them to another Schengen country where there is no indication that they could stay legally. – Relaxed Oct 26 '16 at 17:31
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    @Relaxed Sweden (my country) does Schengen-bouncing too. If arriving by train from Denmark and not having the right to enter, and refusing to apply for asylum, you're sent back to Denmark. Very illogical indeed, since if you're illegally in Sweden, you've got no right to be in Denmark either (except for the 90/180 rule for residence permit holders visiting other Schengen states, or in the case of holders of LTV visas) – Crazydre Oct 28 '16 at 6:52
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It's not, at least not everywhere. I have crossed the border between France and Switzerland more than a dozen times in the last few months and, on most occasions, I haven't noticed any police presence. It's more common to see French police/gendarmerie/customs but they seldom check passports, mostly look at people and wave them through. On one occasion, taking a train from Geneva station, the French police did check everybody's ID (looking at passport's ID page but not at any visa people might require).

That's not to say check are not frequent at some border crossing points (establishing that would require much more than the kind of anecdotal experience I can provide) and it's entirely possible that checks would be more common on the border with Italy, on trains (I have taken a few but mostly cross the border by car), or on the motorway. For some reason, I also have the feeling that the border with Germany was always more intensely policed (all the way back to pre-Schengen times when checks on the Swiss-French border were already far from systematic).

Back when checks on long-distance trains were common (and I took such trains regularly), I always thought that there was some profiling going on, not everybody had their documents checked, or not as intensively, and it didn't feel random at all (although it's again something that's difficult to establish based only on casual observations).

Finally, one problem specific to Switzerland (compared to other Schengen internal borders) is that it's difficult to draw the line between a customs and an immigration check. I remember that the EU Commission initially indicated they would be very sensitive to that but the fact is that it's perfectly legal for Swiss law enforcement to be present on the border (for customs purposes) and if they ask questions and only occasionally check IDs, it's difficult to establish that this amounts to a border check (technically, there are two agencies in charge of border surveillance… but both are part of the Federal Customs Administration and, in principle, competent to handle customs matters or, indeed, unrelated offenses they might notice in the course of their duty, like drunk driving).

  • @Crazydre I experienced something like that near Schaffhausen. It's odd as it's all a federal matter but I often got the feeling that this part of the border was more intensely policed. It could also just be a coincidence of course. It is not common on road checkpoints near Geneva, on the big ones you sometimes see someone but very few checks and I can name one or two where I have literally never seen anybody in years. – Relaxed Oct 27 '16 at 9:50
  • @Relaxed Are you sure that it is not only explained by restricted opening hours, that you haven't seen any Swiss officials at the French border? Swiss border crossings are often not open 24h (outside opening hours, passage with restrictions is still allowed), but during the opening hours, they are always staffed by the Swiss Border Guard, which is responsible both for customs and immigration controls. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Oct 27 '16 at 10:14
  • @Tor-EinarJarnbjo Yes I am sure. Also, I know at least one border crossing that's entirely closed down (with a boom barrier) outside opening hours. But it is definitely not staffed during opening hours. I assume your experience is limited to motorways or major road crossings, relatively few border crossings are continuously staffed, even during the day. – Relaxed Oct 27 '16 at 10:16
  • @Tor-EinarJarnbjo Your comment prompted me to look for information and I found an interesting article about that… Apparently, there are so few border guards left that the boom barriers I mentioned are now closed by private security firms on behalf of the local municipality! – Relaxed Oct 27 '16 at 10:24
  • @Tor-EinarJarnbjo I am learning a lot researching this! Apparently, closing small crossings has absolutely nothing to do with protecting the borders or enforcement of customs rules but is mostly about reducing traffic through small villages. – Relaxed Oct 27 '16 at 10:44

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