Frontier workers to the ‘European Esta’: British Embassy in Switzerland answers Brexit questions

Frontier workers to the 'European Esta': British Embassy in Switzerland answers Brexit questions
Photo: ODD ANDERSEN / AFP
It’s been just under a month since the United Kingdom officially left the European Union, but questions remain for many.

While Switzerland isn’t a member of the bloc, there are still implications for people who live and work in Switzerland. 

Early in February, the British Embassy in Switzerland answered some frequently asked questions about the process and everything that was changing. Here are some of the most pressing questions, while a full list of the questions can be found here

When the European “Esta” comes into effect will we have to apply for it in order to go into France or Germany? Do we have to keep all receipts to prove we have only been 90 days in the Schengen area?

ETIAS (the European “Esta”) is due to be introduced during 2021, and the scheme will cover all countries within the Schengen Area. You can find further information here

Once the scheme comes into operation, UK visitors to the Schengen Area will need to obtain an ETIAS. UK nationals resident in the Schengen Area (e.g. resident in Switzerland) should not need to obtain an ETIAS for travel to another country within the Schengen Area.

READ: What Brits in Switzerland need to know about Brexit

READ: 'Doors will close for Brits in EU': Why the UK's post-Brexit immigration plan has sparked alarm

What will be the future situation for British Frontalier workers? I live in France and work in Geneva as an International fonctionaire (CERN). My two daughters are presently studying in the UK and may want to work in this area after university. As there a very few jobs in France in this border area they would want to apply to work in Switzerland as frontalier workers but this will be post Brexit. What would their situation be? Would it be better to move to Switzerland?

UK nationals who are currently frontier working in Switzerland are protected by our Citizens’ Rights Agreement, which will apply from 1 January 2021.

If your daughters apply for a Swiss frontier worker permit (G permit) before 31 December 2020, then they will also be covered by the Citizens’ Rights Agreement. If they apply after this period, then they will have to fulfil the requirements for third country nationals

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

After the transition period, will UK citizens on an EU B permit be able to retain it until the expiry date, or will they have to switch to the one year B permit?

Your B permit remains valid, and you can renew it when it expires as usual. This is protected by our Citizens’ Rights Agreement which will enter into force on 1 January 2021. If you are eligible and fulfil the requirements for a C permit, you will be able to apply for one at the migration authority in your place of residence

A practical question: my C-permit says “EU-EFTA”. Do we need to get a new one or does the current one remain valid until the “Kontrollfrist”. At my local Kreisbüro they were unable to answer the question last week.

You don’t need to get a new permit. Your current permit remains valid, and you should renew it when it expires as now. The EU/EFTA branding doesn’t affect the validity of your permit.

There are some linguistic requirements for C permit renewals for 3rd party nationals (at least here in Zurich). Will those apply to Brits with C permits after Brexit? My German is still so bad – it's easy to live in Zurich in English.

Starting on 1 January 2019, new provisions for work and residence permits entered into force in Switzerland. This is however unrelated to Brexit but is rather a matter of Swiss domestic legislation.

For UK nationals in possession of a Swiss B or C permit, nothing changes for renewal of those permits until the end of the transition period (31 December 2020). For all new C permits (i.e. conversion from a B to C permit), the proof of language skills (in the language of the place of residence) from an accredited institution applies as of 1 January 2020. You can find a list of accredited institutions here

READ: How have Switzerland's tougher language requirements for work permits affected foreign citizens? 

At EU and Swiss airport immigration, do I now have to go through 'other nationalities' because I am not Swiss and we are now not in EU?

Current arrangements for travel in the EU will not change during the transition period which lasts until 31 December 2020. UK nationals will be able to use the EU immigration lines or e-gates, and they will not have their passports stamped.

What is likely to happen with the rights of British citizens past 31 Dec 2020 in Switzerland? Are there other agreements in negotiation right now? What happens to the upcoming permit renewals post 2020? Would British citizens be still eligible for a C permit after 5 years?

The rights of UK nationals in Switzerland, and indeed Swiss citizens in the UK, are protected by our Citizens’ Rights Agreement which will come into force from 1 January 2021. This means you will be able to renew your permit when it expires, as usual.

This includes renewal of L, G, B and C permits. Switching from a B to C permit falls under Swiss domestic law.

UK nationals covered by our Citizens’ Rights Agreement are eligible to apply for a C permit after 5 years, subject to fulfilling the integration criteria.

From 1 January 2020 this includes a proof of language skills (A2 spoken and A1 written) from an accredited institution. You can find a list of accredited institutions here.

Do Swiss hospitals still accept the EHIC card? If so up until when will it be accepted?

Your EHIC remains valid. There will be no changes to healthcare access for UK nationals visiting or living in the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland before 1 January 2021.

The UK’s agreement temporarily protects EHIC and S2 for UK nationals who find themselves in another Member State on 31 December 2020.

They will be able to complete any treatment they are undergoing or have access to ‘needs arising’ treatment through their EHIC in that Member State, until they return to the UK. This includes people on holiday. EHIC is only valid for temporary stays, however, such as a holiday.

If you are resident in Switzerland, you must take out compulsory insurance with a Swiss health insurance company no later than three months after arriving or beginning to work in Switzerland.

For more information and useful links, visit our Living in Guide.

From 1 January 2021, our UK-Swiss citizens’ rights agreement protects social security arrangements for UK nationals resident in Switzerland; this means reciprocal healthcare arrangements will continue for people such as UK state pensioners, or students on a course of study.

Can we now have access to our private pension if we move back to the UK as no longer in EU?

Your access to your private pension will not be affected by the UK leaving the EU.

Private pensions are ultimately treated as the property of the individual scheme member, and private property is protected by international law.

We fully expect that people will continue to be able to access their pension savings or pension rights. If you are returning to the UK permanently, you should contact the international pension centre to move your pension to the UK.

If you choose to stay in Switzerland, your rights will be protected under our Citizens’ Rights Agreement, which will apply from 1 January 2021.

Social security coordination rules will continue to apply to those covered by the agreement, and we will continue to aggregate social security contributions.

The UK government has confirmed lifelong uprating of UK state pension for recipients in Switzerland, and the right to export relevant benefits to Switzerland and the UK will generally continue as now.

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