Switzerland relaxes work and residency restrictions: What does this mean for foreigners?

On Wednesday May 27th, the Federal Council announced a major easing of various coronavirus restrictions, including those related to work and residence permits for foreigners.

Switzerland relaxes work and residency restrictions: What does this mean for foreigners?
Travel will soon resume at Switzerland's airports. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini /AFP

“In view of the favourable development of the epidemiological situation, the Federal Council decided to relax the entry restrictions it had imposed to protect the Swiss population against spread of coronavirus”, the authorities said in a statement.

The relaxation will impact the following areas:


From June 8th, Swiss companies will be able to again recruit workers from the EU and EFTA (Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland), as well as from ‘third countries’ — those that don’t belong to either category.

Companies will be allowed to hire foreign workers if they urgently need them and cannot find suitable employees on the Swiss market.

Residence permits

Also as of June 8th, the cantons will once again handle all applications for residence permits or border and short-term job permits from the EU and EFTA citizens.

Applications from third-country workers will also be considered, provided their employment would be in the public interest — for example, “if a company urgently needs specialists whose work cannot be postponed or carried out from abroad”, the Federal Council said.

The cantons will also examine applications for short-term residence permits to conclude a marriage or registered partnership with a Swiss citizen or a foreign national holding a residence permit.

Students will be allowed to enter the country for training and education purposes.

In addition, legal residents, short-term permit holders, and even provisionally admitted foreigners, will be able to reunite with a family member from abroad.

READ MORE: Switzerland announces most lockdown restrictions will be dropped in June 

Free circulation / travel

The free movement of people is set to resume on July 6th within the entire Schengen area, the Federal Council said.

Health measures, such as taking a temperature, a health questionnaire, or even a quarantine, may be ordered at the border for certain categories of people arriving from a country at risk. Passenger flights from abroad to Zurich, Geneva and Basel airports will no longer be restricted.

The government has not yet set the date for the opening of Swiss borders to people from third countries, but the decision will be made in coordination with other Schengen nations, Sommaruga said.

And while Switzerland will open its borders with Austria, Germany, and France on June 15th, the Federal Council “considers it premature to lift controls at the border with Italy” on June 3rd, when the Italian government is planning to re-open its borders to tourists from the EU.

Swiss authorities were caught by surprise by Italy’s announcement on May 18th because the country has not recovered from the Covid-19 outbreak as quickly as Switzerland’s other neighbours.


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Residence permits: How EU and EFTA citizens can live, work and stay in Switzerland

For European Union and EFTA citizens, living and working in Switzerland is much easier. Here's what you need to know.

The city of Zurich, with Lake Zurich in the foreground, on a beautiful day. Zurich is a popular destination for foreign workers. Photo by Volodymyr on Unsplash
The city of Zurich, with Lake Zurich in the foreground, on a beautiful day. Zurich is a popular destination for foreign workers. Photo by Volodymyr on Unsplash

A small country with a strong economy, Switzerland is heavily reliant on its foreign workers. 

Approximately 25 percent of the country’s population is foreign, with the figure in some cantons as high as 50 percent. 

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.

This means that citizens of the 27 countries currently in the European Union – along with the three EFA states other than Switzerland (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) – have preferential access when it comes to living and working in Switzerland. 

While it is not as simple as just moving to Switzerland like you would in your own country, it remains much easier than if you come from a so-called ‘third country’. If you come from a country outside the EU/EFTA states, click the following link for more information. 

READ MORE: An essential guide to Swiss work permits

Here’s what you need to know. 

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.

A red train carves its way though the Swiss mountains on a snowy day.

The scenic route. This is the way at least some people get to work in Switzerland. Photo by Johannes Hofmann on Unsplash

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. 

Reader question: Does owning a second home in Switzerland give me the right to live there?

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.