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Work permits in Switzerland: the importance for foreign skilled workers

By 11. November 2023Februar 2nd, 2024No Comments

Switzerland is an attractive labour market for foreign professionals. If you want to work in Switzerland as a foreign citizen, you generally need a work permit.

The conditions and procedures for obtaining a work permit depend on various factors, such as nationality, the type of work sought and the quotas set for certain countries.

Why is a work permit required?

The employment of a foreign employee by an employer in Switzerland is subject to authorization. This means that both the employer and the employee must fulfil certain requirements in order to obtain a work permit.
Work permits serve to ensure that foreign workers work legally in Switzerland and that their employment does not harm the country’s interests. They also help to regulate the labour market and ensure that there is a balance between Swiss citizens and foreign workers.

What types of work permits are there?

There are different types of work permits in Switzerland, depending on the duration and type of employment.

  1. Short-term residence permit (L permit): This permit is issued to foreign nationals who wish to stay in Switzerland temporarily for a specific purpose. It is usually valid for less than one year and enables employees to pursue gainful employment.
  2. Residence permit (B permit): This permit is issued to foreign nationals who wish to reside permanently in Switzerland, either to work or for other reasons. EU/EFTA citizens can obtain this permit if they can prove that they are employed on a permanent basis or for at least one year. This authorisation is generally valid for five years and can be extended under certain conditions.
  3. Permanent residence permit (C permit): This permit is issued to foreign nationals who have been living in Switzerland for five or ten years. It enables employees to remain in Switzerland permanently and pursue gainful employment.
  4. Residence permit with gainful employment (Ci permit): This permit is issued to family members by officials of intergovernmental organisations or foreign representations. It only applies to spouses and children up to the age of 25 and is linked to the term of office of the main holder.
  5. Cross-border commuter permit (G permit): This permit is issued to EU/EFTA citizens who work in Switzerland but regularly return to their home country. The period of validity depends on the type of employment contract, either five years for open-ended contracts or the duration of the employment contract for fixed-term contracts.

Who needs a work permit?

Work permits for EU/EFTA citizens

Thanks to the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons, citizens of EU and EFTA countries have the right to enter, live and work in Switzerland.
You can initially stay in the country for three months and have the option of staying for a further three months (six months in total) by applying for a short-term residence permit and proving that you have sufficient financial means to support yourself.
If you wish to work in Switzerland for longer than six months, you must apply for a residence permit from your municipality of residence before starting work. The number of authorisations for EU and EFTA citizens is not limited.

Work permits for third-country nationals

Stricter regulations apply to persons from third countries. Individuals from outside the EU/EFTA may only come to Switzerland to work if they are considered „qualified“. This applies in particular to managers, specialists and people with special qualifications such as university graduates with several years of professional experience.
A work permit is also required for short-term employment. The employer must prove that the recruitment serves the economic interests of the country and that he was unable to find the required personnel on either the Swiss or the EU/EFTA market. In the case of a longer stay, the person’s integration ability and potential are also taken into account.

Special arrangements for the United Kingdom

Since the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU, a special arrangement has applied to UK nationals. Persons who obtained a right of residence in Switzerland before 1 January 2021 can retain it. The Swiss government has set quotas for special residence permits for the UK until a possible agreement on future migration relations is reached.

How to apply for a work permit?

The application process for a work permit in Switzerland can vary depending on the type of permit and the employee’s country of origin. As a rule, the employer must apply to the competent cantonal authority for a work permit.
EU/EFTA citizens who wish to take up long-term employment in Switzerland often need to apply for a residence permit from their municipality of residence before starting work.
Citizens from third countries usually have to ask their employer to handle the application process for them. Der Arbeitgeber muss nachweisen, dass die Einstellung den wirtschaftlichen Interessen des Landes dient und dass er keine geeigneten Arbeitskräfte auf dem Schweizer oder EU/EFTA-Markt finden konnte. The administrative process is the responsibility of the employer, who must ensure that all the necessary documents are submitted.

Fees and documents for a work permit

Application for a work permit may be subject to fees. The exact amount of the fees depends on the type of permit and the employee’s country of origin. Information on the fees for a work permit can be found on the website of the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).
In addition to the fees, certain documents must be submitted in order to apply for a work permit. As a rule, however, a valid passport, an employment contract, proof of qualifications and confirmation from the employer of the need for foreign labour must be presented.

The Alpinum Accounting experts will be happy to help you at any time.

Yves Maurer

Yves Maurer, CEO

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