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WORK PERMITS

EXPLAINED: Who can work in Switzerland but live in a neighbouring country?

Hundreds of thousands of foreigners from neighbouring nations commute to their Swiss jobs every day. What permits do these people need and how to obtain them?

EXPLAINED: Who can work in Switzerland but live in a neighbouring country?
Some workers from Germany cross this border in Koblenz on the way to their Swiss jobs. Photo by NICHOLAS RATZENBOECK / AFP

At the end of 2021, 362,000 cross-border workers were employed in Switzerland, according to the Federal Statistical Office (FSO).

Most (203,689) are from France and work predominantly in Geneva and Vaud, but also in Jura and Basel, all of which border Switzerland.

The second-largest group, 86,322 workers from Italy, are employed mostly in Ticino, with some jobs also in Valais and Graubünden.

Next are people from Germany (63, 547) , who cross the border into Basel, Aargau and Schaffhausen

The smallest group (8,489) is from Austria, which shares a border with St. Gallen and Graubünden.

‘Border zones’ are defined by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) as “the regions fixed in cross-border commuter treaties concluded between Switzerland and its neighbouring countries” — that is, regions that are in close enough geographic proximity to the Swiss border to make daily commuting to and from work feasible.

Why does Switzerland recruit these workers and what is in it for them?

Cross-border work is a win-win situation — that is to say, everyone involved benefits from this arrangement.

For Switzerland, it is a way to fill vacancies in professions for which Swiss citizens or foreign permanent residents can’t be found.

One of them is the healthcare sector, which suffers from a shortage of nurses and other skilled medical professionals.

At Geneva’s university hospital (HUG) alone, 60 percent of nurses and 9 percent of doctors are cross-border workers from France.

In Ticino, which shares a long border with Italy, about 120 doctors and 500 nurses employed in the canton’s health sector are daily commuters from the nearby Italian regions.

“Without cross-border workers, our hospitals would not be functioning”, Bertrand Vuilleumier, head of the hospital association in Vaud, said during the height of the Covid pandemic in 2020.

These workers are employed in other sectors as well, including construction, retail, and service and hospitality.

For these foreign employees, working in Switzerland means higher wages than they would earn in their own countries for the same jobs.

The fact that foreign employers can’t match Swiss wages causes staff shortages in border areas, as “everyone wants to work in Switzerland”, according to one employer in the French Haute-Savoie region.

How are cross-border employees able to work in Switzerland?

They must obtain the so-called G work permit, which is given only to eligible border area residents (see below).

Once you find a job in Switzerland, your Swiss employer will apply for this permit for you at the canton where you will be working. This is what this permit entitles you to (and not):

  • Most cross-border workers typically commute to and from work on daily basis, but they must return to their main place of residence abroad at least once a week.
  • The G-permit is valid five years, unless it’s a temporary contract in which case it is valid only for the duration of employment. The permits are limited only to the issuing cantons.
  • A cross-border permit does not grant access to permanent residence  (B or C permit), or to Swiss citizenship. This status also changes the way you will have to pay taxes and social deductions, which also depends on your country or residence and the canton of employment.

This article explains all the details:

How to get a permit as a cross-border worker in Switzerland

I live in the border region of France / Italy / Germany / Austria. Am I eligible work in Switzerland?

Yes, but only if you are a citizen or legal resident of the  country where you live (or another EU state), or of an EFTA nation (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein).

The fact of merely living in a EU state doesn’t grant the right to work in Switzerland. However, if you are a citizen of a third nation, you can still apply for a G permit as long as you have been a legal resident of a country adjacent to Switzerland for at least six months.

If you are a Swiss citizen who just happens to live across the border (as some dual nationals do), then you obviously don’t need a permit to work in Switzerland.

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

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WORK PERMITS

READER QUESTION: How long can I stay out of Switzerland and keep my residency rights?

If you are planning to leave Switzerland for a while, it is good to ensure that being out of the country won't affect your residency. This is what you should know.

READER QUESTION: How long can I stay out of Switzerland and keep my residency rights?

Even if you permanently live and work in Switzerland, you may want to leave the country for a period of time to work, study, or just travel around.

If you have Swiss citizenship this is of course not a problem, but if you are not a citizen then long periods away can affect your residency.

L, B, or C?

How long you can actually live abroad depends on what kind of Swiss permit you hold.

Anyone with a short-term residence permit L can leave the country for no longer than three months.

However, be careful, as these permits are usually granted for up to a year, and the three months is a total period – so for example if you travel a lot for work you need to keep a count and make sure you haven’t exceeded 90 days (three months) in total. 

You have more leeway with residence permits B and C: you can stay out for up to six months a year.

Of the two, the C, which is granted to permanent or ‘settled’ foreigners, gives their holders more sweeping rights, including in regards to staying abroad.

For instance, if you plan to leave the country for more than six months (but not longer than four years), then you have the option of putting the permit ‘on hold’ – this is especially useful for people who want to study at a non-Swiss university.

You must request this suspension from your cantonal authorities in writing, explaining the reasons why you plan to remain abroad for a longer-than-permitted period of time.

If you simply leave for more than six months without ‘freezing’ your permit, then it will expire in due time, and you will have to re-apply for it under the usual admission conditions.

Notify the canton

If you decide to leave, don’t just pack your bags and sneak out like a thief in the middle of the night.

You must notify the local Population Office ((Einwohnerkontrolle / Contrôle des habitants/ Controllo abitanti) of your departure and fill out any required paperwork.

What about holders of permit S?

Given exclusively to Ukrainians who have fled the war in their country, this special status allows refugees to travel abroad “if the trip does not exceed 90 days within a period of 180 days”, according to State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).

As far as travel to Ukraine, it should not exceed 15 days per quarter, or SEM may “revoke temporary protection status in Switzerland”.

READ MORE: Nine things you need to know about work permits in Switzerland

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