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An essential guide to Swiss work permits

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An essential guide to Swiss work permits
Jogging on Lake Geneva. Photo: AFP
20:40 CET+01:00
If you are planning to live and work in Switzerland for more than three months, you will need a permit. These are issued by cantonal authorities.

The type of permit you receive will depend on factors including your nationality, your skills and any relevant quotas that are in place.

Switzerland has a dual system for allowing foreign workers in to the country: European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) nationals are in one group and people from all other countries (third-country nationals) in a second group.

EU and EFTA nationals

Nationals from EU and EFTA countries are able to live and work in Switzerland under the terms of the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP).

People from these countries only require a residence permit, which also doubles as a work permit. These permits are not tied to a single canton, but you need to inform the authorities if you change your address. You can also change jobs or take up self-employment.

Note that you will only generally be granted a residence permit if you have a signed work contract detailing the number of hours to be worked and the duration of the position.

However, people from EU and EFTA countries who are not economically active, such as retirees and students, may be entitled to a residence permit if they can prove they have sufficient funds to support themselves and that they have health insurance. There is more information here.

If you are an EU or EFTA national, you can also come to Switzerland and look for work for a period of up to three months without needing to obtain a permit. If your job hunt lasts longer than three months and you have sufficient funds, you can apply for a temporary residence permit that will allow you to continue looking for a further three months. This can be extended for up to a year if there is sufficient evidence that your job hunt could be successful.

Here are the main types of residence permits for EU/EFTA nationals in Switzerland

L EU/EFTA permit (short-term residents)

This permit is usually given to EU and EFTA who are going to be resident in Switzerland for a period of up to a year.

According to the State Secretariat for Migration, EU and EFTA nationals are entitled to this permit provided they are in possession of an employment contract valid from three up to twelve months. 

B EU/ETFA permit (resident foreign nationals)

This permit is issued to foreigners with a work contract of at least 12 months, or of unlimited duration. This permit can be extended after the five years is up. However, if the applicant has been out of work for more than 12 consecutive months in the previous five-year period, the permit will only be extended for one year.

EU and EFTA nationals who don't have work, or who plan to work on a self-employed basis, can also be granted a B permit if they can prove they have enough money to be self-sufficient and that they have adequate health and accident insurance.

C EU/FTA permit (settled foreign nationals)

After five or ten years' residence, some EU and EFTA nationals can obtain permanent residence status by being granted a C permit.

G EU/EFTA permit

This permit is designed for cross-border commuters who work in Switzerland (either employed by a firm or self-employed) but who live elsewhere. Holders of this permit can work anywhere in Switzerland but must return to their place of residence outside Switzerland at least once a week.

Third-country nationals

It is more difficult for so-called third-country nationals to obtain a permit to live and work in Switzerland.

People from these countries will only be admitted if it is considered to be “in the general economic interest” and if existing quotas for third-country nationals have not yet been filled.

In addition, third-country nationals will only be hired if no one from within Switzerland or from within the EU/FTA area carry out the position in question.

Only highly-qualified staff including managers and specialists will be admitted under Switzerland's quota scheme. Swiss authorities may also look at factors including age, ability to adapt to a new professional environment and language skills when choosing when to offer a third-country national a work permit.

Here are the main types of permits for third-country nationals:

L (short-term)

This is for short-term stays of up to 12 months, although occasionally this can be extended to 24 months if you stay with the same employer.

Generally, people with these L permits can only change jobs if they cannot continue to work for their current employer and on the condition that they stay in the same sector and continue to carry out the same profession. They will also have to apply to cantonal authorities to be able to change job.

B (residence permit)

B permits for third-country nationals are usually only issued for a single year. In general, they can be renewed from one year to the next. These permits are limited in number and residence is limited to the canton where the permit is issued. B permits for third-country nationals are also tied to the employer.

However, holders of a B permit can generally change jobs if they make an application to cantonal authorities.

Holders of these B permits will have their tax deducted directly from their salary.

C (permanent residence permit)

After ten years of continuous residence, third-country nationals are able, in theory, to obtain permanent residence (C permit). For a small group of countries including Canada and the United States, this period is five continuous years.

These permits are not tied to a single employer and holders are free to live and work in any canton.

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