Work permits For Members

Switzerland resists pressure to cut work permits for non-EU workers

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Switzerland resists pressure to cut work permits for non-EU workers
The same number of permits will be issued to third country workers. Photo by Global Residence Index on Unsplash

Despite a push from Switzerland’s Justice Minister to issue fewer permits to workers from outside the European Union, the government will retain the same number of quotas for 2024.


The minister, Elisabeth Baume-Schneider, has asked the Federal Council to reduce the permit quotas the government makes available each year for people from outside the EU, as well as Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein (EFTA).

But the Federal Council announced on Wednesday that the same number of permits will be issued in 2024.

This means that up to 8,500 skilled workers can again be recruited from third countries: 4,500 will get a B residence permit, and 4,000 a short-term  L permit. 

UK citizens are eligible for separate quotas as part of a transitional post-Brexit arrangement: 2,100 B and 1,400 L permits are set aside just for them.

However, the government “intends to incorporate the separate quota for UK nationals into the regular quota for third-country nationals in the medium term,” according to the Federal Council’s press release.

Why did the government decide to maintain the current quota?

In its own words, it is "to ensure that companies in Switzerland can continue to recruit the skilled labour they need from non-EU/EFTA countries in the coming year.”

“In view of the shortage of skilled labour in various sectors of the economy, the Federal Council's decision to admit the same number of workers from third countries and the United Kingdom …will help stabilise and strengthen the Swiss economy.”


What exactly does this mean?

Making 12,000 permits available to third-country nationals doesn’t mean that everyone from outside the EU / EFTA who seeks a job in Switzerland will automatically get a permit.

Far from it: according to the Federal Council, “in recent years the quotas have not been fully utilised. At the end of October 2023, 68 percent of category B residence permits and 65 percent of short-term category L permits had been distributed to third-country workers."

The reason is that eligibility criteria for third-country employees are very strict.

“Labour migration from third countries to Switzerland is limited. Admission is based on companies' needs and the interests of the Swiss economy as a whole. Priority is given to the domestic workforce and workers from the EU/EFTA member states,” the government said.


Could the rules be loosened in the future?

The government has no plans to do so.

However, there have been political efforts to allow non-EU / EFTA students who graduate from Swiss universities with a degree in a field suffering from a shortage of qualified professionals to remain in the country.

That project was stalled in September, when MPs realised the measure would be difficult to implement from a constitutional point of view because the current law doesn’t have any exemption clauses for third country nationals who graduate from Swiss universities with in-demand skills.

So in order for this measure to be green-lighted, legal basis must be created first — a move that legislators want to push forward.

READ ALSO: Why has the move to let non-EU graduates stay in Switzerland stalled?

However, there are also some exemptions allowing third-country citizens to legally circumvent the rules:

READ ALSO: The little-known exceptions that allow non-EU nationals to work in Switzerland 


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also