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What Brits in Switzerland need to know about Brexit

What Brits in Switzerland need to know about Brexit
Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
Brexit is set to become final on the 31st of January. Here’s what you need to know.

More than three and a half years since the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, Brexit is set to take place this Friday, January 31st.

While Switzerland is not a member of the European Union – in fact, Switzerland is having its own referendum on freedom of movement rights later this year – there are several potential implications for UK citizens living in Switzerland, as well as those living in neighbouring countries and Swiss citizens who live in the UK. 

READ: Five things you should know if you're a cross-border worker in Switzerland

After several extensions, the date upon which the UK will leave the European Union is January 31st, 2020.

While stranger things have happened, with just a couple of days to go, this date is unlikely to be extended further. 

The best news for anyone worried about the 31st of January is that nothing is set to change until at least the end of the ‘implementation period’ – which has been set at December 31st, 2020. Although that date may be extended.

Up until then, the Free Movement of Persons Agreement  (AFPM) – which applies between EU members and Switzerland – will remain in place thanks to the Swiss Citizens’ Rights Agreement agreed between the UK and Switzerland.

As soon as the transition period ends then the Swiss Citizens' Rights Agreement will come into force that will protect the residence rights (and other rights) of British citizens in Switzerland that they acquired under the AFMP.

As of now that date will be January 1st 2021.

Britannia. Cool. Photo; NIKLAS HALLE'N / AFP

I’m a UK citizen living in Switzerland. Where do I stand?

British citizens living in Switzerland who currently possess a residence permit do not need to take any action. 

The most recent government advice indicates that there may at a later stage be a requirement that residents change their current permit for a newer one, although this will purely be a procedural change but will likely be subject to a criminal records check. 

This process involves contacting the immigration and labour market authorities in the canton in which you live to apply for a new permit before the existing one expires. 

Any access to pensions or other benefits will also not be affected, with the agreement promising “no disadvantage” to workers as a result of Brexit. 

The full list of rights which will be protected for UK citizens in Switzerland under the bilateral agreement are: 

Residence with gainful employment (employed and self-employed);

Residence without gainful activity; 

Right to family reunification.

On family reunification the rules are as follows:

“Individuals in scope of the agreement can be joined by close family members (spouses, civil and unmarried partners, dependent children and grandchildren, and dependent parents and grandparents) who live in a different country at any point in the future, if the relationship existed on the specified date and still exists when the person wishes to come to the UK.

“Individuals in scope of the agreement can also be joined by new spouses and partners under current rules for five years after the specified date.”

Employment in Switzerland as a cross-border commuter;

Continuation of service provisions (up to 90 days per calendar year) in the other party by companies and self-employed persons domiciled in Switzerland or the United Kingdom; 

Principle of non-discrimination; and 

Right to purchase immovable property

Brits in Switzerland will also maintain the right to have their professional qualifications recognised and the right  to access social security benefits and health cover.

British workers and those who are self-employed will be guaranteed broadly the same rights as they currently enjoy under the AFPM. In other words “they have a right to not be discriminated against due to nationality.”

The rights acquired under this agreement are valid indefinitely, provided the conditions stipulated in the agreement are met.

That means there are certain cases in which British residents in Switzerland could lose their right to residency.

For example:

A more comprehensive list of Frequently Asked Questions is provided at the following link

Those in Switzerland or who arrive before December 301st 2020 will be able to apply for permanent residency after five years.

I’m a UK citizen and might like to move to Switzerland after Brexit. What about me?

The existing and transitional arrangements only apply to UK citizens who currently have permission to live in Switzerland or who move before December 31st – not those who may seek to acquire it in the future after the end of the transition or implementation period. 

As yet, no arrangement has been made between the two countries – although talks are ongoing. 

Swiss law creates quotas for foreign workers and this advice from the Swiss government said expanding quotas to include British workers would be considered as part of the discussions. 

For people with family in the UK who may want to move later, the right of family reunification will also be part of these discussions. 

Is there end in sight for Brexit drama? Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP

How are Swiss citizens’ rights in the UK affected?

As Switzerland is not in the EU, rights to work, reside and move freely between Switzerland and the UK are contained in the Swiss Citizens’ Rights Agreement after the implementation period ends on December 31st, 2020. 

This agreement applies between Switzerland and the UK. As said specifically in the guide, the goal of the agreement is to uphold the rights of Swiss citizens in the UK. 

“It will ensure that individuals can rely directly on these rights in the UK courts and will protect the rights to equal treatment and non-discrimination for Swiss nationals living or working in the UK. Protection of UK nationals living or working in Switzerland will be provided for by Switzerland.”

The Swiss Citizens’ Rights Agreement provides a six-month grace period after December 31st, 2020, where Swiss citizens can apply under the EU Settlement Scheme for rights to stay in the UK.

If Swiss nationals in the UK are successful in doing so, they will be granted with much the same rights as they currently have. 

I am Swiss and I work in the UK but do not live there – what about me?

The Swiss Citizens’ Rights Agreement also protects the rights of so-called ‘frontier workers’, i.e. workers who live in Switzerland but work in the UK. As the government advice says specifically, workers will be protected “by retaining their right to enter and work in the country of their employment (including self-employment). 

This will apply to Swiss nationals who are not living in the UK but are currently working here.”

More information is provided here in this official UK Government notice, although it is primarily focused on Swiss citizens living in the UK rather than the reverse. 

Notice: As with any form of advice piece featured on The Local Switzerland, it is a guide for our readers only and does not amount to legal advice. Always seek legal advice on matters relating to immigration rights. 

 

 

 

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