Work permits For Members

Who do Switzerland's 12,000 work permits for non-EU citizens go to?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Who do Switzerland's 12,000 work permits for non-EU citizens go to?
UK citizens have a special quota. Photo by Ethan Wilkinson on Unsplash

Swiss government announced that the same number of quotas for third-country nationals will be issued in 2024. How are these permits divvied up?


While people from the European Union and EFTA (Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein) have an almost unlimited access to Switzerland’s  labour market, those from third nations can only be employed in Switzerland under very strict conditions (read more about this below).

Each year, the Federal Council releases a set number of permits (also called ‘quotas’), allowing non-EU / EFTA nationals to work in Switzerland during the year.

Quotas for 2024 are the same as they have been for the past several years: 12,000 in all.
They consist of B and L permits, depending on the kind of employment individual foreigners are eligible for.

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

How are these permits divided and who do they go to?

Out of the total number, 3,500 permits are set aside specifically for UK nationals, who are eligible for separate quotas as part of a transitional post-Brexit arrangement: 2,100 B and 1,400 L permits are  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.

The remaining 8,500 permits are meant for other third-country workers.

There is only one EU country that is currently submitted to the same restrictive rules as third nations: Croatia.


Why is that?

Although Croatia has been a member of the European Union since 2013, and its citizens could freely work in Switzerland since January 2022, it is no longer the case.

That’s because Switzerland  included the so-called ‘safeguard clause’ in the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) it signed with the EU.

This clause allows Swiss authorities to reintroduce quotas for citizens of Eastern European countries (including, aside from Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia) in case there is a significant increase in immigration from those nations.

As the number of workers from Croatia has risen sharply, exceeding the threshold figure defined in the AFMP, Switzerland has activated the safeguard clause from January 1, 2023, which means “Croatian nationals will now require a quota permit if they wish to take up gainful employment in Switzerland after this date,” according to the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM). 

How is the number of quotas determined each year?
Third-country quotas are set by each canton, depending on its economic needs.

The federal government then determines the total number of permits it will make available to each canton.

Clearly, the more ‘industrial’ cantons like Zurich, Geneva, Basel, and Vaud will need a bigger contingent of foreign workers than rural cantons.

READ ALSO: Where are Switzerland’s biggest international companies? 


Do all cantons have the same criteria for third-country workers?

Conditions are set by the federal government and can’t be made less strict by individual cantons.
So they are the same everywhere in Switzerland.

“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.

If you are a national of a third country (or Croatia), you must find an employer in Switzerland who is willing to hire you, and they must prove to the authorities that you have the skills and experience that no Swiss or EU / EFTA person can offer.
Only then you could (possibly) have a chance to snap up one of the permits under the quota.



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