Can a third-country national resident in the EU work in Switzerland?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Can a third-country national resident in the EU work in Switzerland?
When it comes to employment, Switzerland and the EU have a special agreement. Photo: François WALSCHAERTS / AFP

Switzerland has strict rules about who is allowed to work in the country, but sometimes these regulations can be confusing to foreigners.


If you are a foreign national living in Switzerland, you probably know who has and doesn’t have the right to be employed here.

As a general rule, Swiss employers are allowed to hire two groups of foreign workers without much administrative or bureaucratic hassles: citizens of European Union states, as well as those from EFTA countries — that is, from Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.

These workers have an almost unlimited access to Switzerland’s employment market.

In fact, they don’t even need a permit if they work here for up to three months.

For a longer period, they must apply for — and usually get without much ado — a permit from the Swiss commune where they live.

Depending on the kind of employment contract they have, they will receive either a B or L permit.

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

What about people from outside the EU / EFTA?

Rules and procedures are more complicated for people from outside the EU, often known as 'third-country nationals'.

Unlike people from the EU / EFTA states, who have a nearly limitless access to Switzerland’s labour market, those from outside Europe have more hurdles to overcome in terms of work permits.

The reason is that permits for this group of foreigners are subject to quotas and strict rules.

According to the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), "admission of third-state nationals to the Swiss labour market is only granted if it is in the interests of Switzerland and the Swiss economy as a whole".

This means that permits / visas will be granted only to highly skilled specialists who can’t be recruited from among Swiss or EU / EFTA workforce.


What happens if a third-country national lives in an EU or EFTA state? Can they be employed in Switzerland under the same rules?

The mere fact of living within the European Union, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein, doesn’t give these people the right to work and reside in Switzerland on the same basis as their EU / EFTA counterparts.

They are still subject to quotas and the above-mentioned rules.

This right is reserved only for ‘citizens’ or ‘nationals’ of EU / EFTA countries, not everyone who happens to live there, according to SEM.

This is the case even if you have a residence permit for an EU / EFTA state — such a permit doesn't extend to Switzerland.


What are the exceptions?

There are, however, two exceptions to this rule.

One is if a third-country national also has a citizenship from the EU / EFTA ; in other words, if a UK person is also a national of France, or a US citizen gets a Norwegian passport, then these people are no longer considered by Switzerland as third-country citizens, but rather as part of the big EU / EFTA family.

Another exemption would be a cross-border commuter (G permit holder) who is third country national, but holds a permanent residence permit in France, Germany, Italy, or Austria, and has been living in the border region of that country for at least six months.


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