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Work permits For Members

Who determines what kind of Swiss work permit you receive?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Who determines what kind of Swiss work permit you receive?
Your nationality determines what kind of Swiss permit you will get. Image by Bruno from Pixabay

Switzerland has several different types of work permits. Which one you are eligible to obtain depends on various factors.

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The first thing to clarify is that the kind of permit you receive (provided you are eligible to work in Switzerland in the first place) is not an arbitrary decision made at random by some official sitting behind a desk.

Rather, it is determined by your nationality, along with (in some cases) factors such as your education, skills, and your usefulness for Switzerland’s economy.

In case you are not familiar with the permits, this is a quick overview:

Short-term permit L

This permit is usually given to those who have an employment contract valid for up to 12 months.

Resident foreign nationals permit B

This permit is valid for five years and is issued to EU / EFTA citizens holding a contract of employment of at least 12 months or of unlimited duration.  

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.

Settlement permit C

After five or 10 years’ residence, depending on your nationality, foreigners can obtain permanent residence status by being granted a C permit.

READ ALSO: Why does Switzerland have two kinds of C-permit holders? 

Cross-border permit G

This permit is designed for cross-border commuters who work in Switzerland  but who live in neighbour countries.

Holders of this permit usually return to their place of residence outside Switzerland each day, but must do so at least once a week.

These are the most common types of Swiss work permits granted to foreigners; the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) has a complete list of permits issued to EU / EFTA nationals and those from outside the EU / EFTA.

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So what determines the kind of permit you will receive?

First and foremost, your nationality.

As you may have found out by now, people with passports from the European Union or EFTA nations (Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein) have a better access to work permits than their counterparts from outside those two blocks (the so-called ‘third countries').

If you are an EU / EFTA national, then you will typically receive a B permit quite easily.

All you have to do is register your arrival with your commune of residence and show them your employment contract. (And if you work for an employer in Switzerland for up to three months, you don’t need a permit at all. You must, however, declare your arrival to the authorities within 14 days).

If your work contract is temporary and for less than a year, you will be granted a L permit.

Since the L permit is tied to a specific job, when the contract is finished, so is the permit.  

However, if you come from an EU or EFTA country, the process of getting a B permit after the L expires is relatively easy — just apply for it at the Swiss commune in which you are living.

READ ALSO: Can my Swiss L permit be converted into a B permit? 

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What about a G-permit?

If you are a national of Germany, France, Italy, or Austria, or a citizen of another country but have had a permanent residence status in one of these (or another EU country) for at least six months, and have a job in a border zone of Switzerland, you can apply for a G permit in the canton where your employer is.

SEM defines ‘border zones’ 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.

These are the things to keep in mind:

  • 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

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

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What work permit will you get if you are a 'third-country' national?

The process of getting a work permit gets more complicated if you come from outside the EU / EFTA.

That’s because you are not able to  simply apply for a permit (either L or B) like your European counterparts can.

First, you must find a Swiss employer willing to hire you, and it will be up to them to seek a work permit for you.

The reason is that permits for this group of foreigners (and that includes UK citizens) are subject to quotas and strict rules.

According to 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.

If you are able to overcome these obstacles, you will be granted either a L or a B permit, depending on the duration of your employment contract in Switzerland.

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What about permit C?

Sorry, but you will not be able to obtain this permit — which gives its holders sweeping rights to work and live in Switzerland, and is a stepping-stone to Swiss citizenship — immediately upon your arrival.

You must ‘work’ your way toward this permit.

If you are a citizen of the EU or EFTA  and live in Switzerland on a B permit continuously for five years, you can apply for the C permit, provided you meet all the requirements, such as language proficiency and integration criteria.

In case you come from non-EU / EFTA states (including the UK), then your wait to ‘upgrade’ from a B to a C permit is twice as long — 10 continuous years, also provided you fulfil all the above-mentioned criteria.

There are, however, some exemptions from these rules.

For instance, Americans and Canadians are on par with their EU/ EFTA counterparts: they can also apply for a C permit after five years of continuous residence on a B permit.

There are other exceptions as well: if you are a non-EU / EFTA spouse or the minor child of a Swiss citizen of a permit C holder, you too can apply for a C permit after five years.

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