Work permits For Members

Seven things non-EU nationals should know about moving to Switzerland

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Seven things non-EU nationals should know about moving to Switzerland
Rules for non-EU nationals are strict.

Switzerland has strict rules about foreigners who can live and work in the country, and under what conditions. Nationals of third countries face a slew of restrictions, but can move here under certain circumstances.


If you a citizen of the European Union or EFTA countries (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), you have almost an unlimited access to the Swiss labour market and residence, as well as a shorter wait than most non-EU / EFTA nationals to the C permit.

You also have the right to change jobs and move from one canton to another.

READ ALSO: Just how freely can EU citizens move to (and within) Switzerland? 

All these rights don’t come as easily to people from outside the EU / EFTA, including UK and US nationals.

Can you still move to Switzerland if you are a national of these countries?

Yes, but this is what you should know:

The permits are subject to quotas

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.

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.

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


Need-based attribution

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.

Not all of the available permits are distributed to applicants

Out of the maximum number of work permits set aside for UK citizens and other non-EU nationals, only a portion have been handed out.

Recent data from the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) indicates that in 2023, there was a quota "shortfall" – in other words, only a part of available third-country permits had been issued. 

Of the total of 12,000 permits, 7,480 were distributed among cantons for their non-EU / EFTA workforce – 848 (out of 3,500) were issued to UK nationals and 6,632 (out of 8,500) to people from other third countries.  

In fact, “this maximum number had not been fully utilised since 2017”, SEM’s spokesperson Samuel Wyss told The Local.

One reason, according to Wyss, is that “the admission of third-country nationals depends on the needs of the economy and employers" (read more about this below).

Additionally, a number of applicants don’t meet the eligibility criteria for the permit – ranging from the candidates' professional qualifications to how sufficient a contribution they would make to Switzerland’s “overall economic interest”.

“If one or more of these requirements are not met, the permit will not be granted, even if there are still quotas available within the annual maximum numbers,” Wyss pointed out.


Swiss economy must really, really need you

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".

Furthermore, you must be a highly qualified specialist or skilled professional in your field. This means that you should have a degree from a university or an institution of higher education, as well as a number of years of professional work experience.

Nobody else can be found for the job

Even if you fulfill these requirements, you are not quite in the clear yet.

In Switzerland’s employment hierarchy, you can be hired only if the employer can prove to the authorities that no suitable Swiss or EU / EFTA candidate could be found to fill the vacant position.

This is demonstrated by one recent case of SEM refusing to grant permits to chefs from India to work in a new Indian restaurant set to open in Zurich: authorities said suitable personnel can be found locally.

READ ALSO: Famous Indian restaurant can't open in Zurich after chefs denied permits 


There are some exemptions to these rules

"In certain cases, legally regulated exceptions from the admission requirements are possible," SEM says, listing a number of exemptions to its general rules for non-EU / EFTA nationals.
They include:

  • Transfers of executives or specialists within international companies
  • Internships, training, and further education
  • Au pairs
  • Family members

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

And there other exceptions as well…

If you are a third-country national who is a dual citizen – for instance, you also have a Swiss or a EU passport in addition to the one from a third country, then these rules don’t apply to you.

You can work in Switzerland without restrictions.

READ ALSO:  How can non-EU nationals apply for a Swiss work visa?



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