Switzerland has restricted quotas for foreign workers, and everyone will need work authorisation to legally work in Switzerland.
To get permission to work in Switzerland, different conditions apply for citizens who are from a country in the European Union or European Free trade Association (EFTA) (EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), than for citizens who are third-country nationals (non-EU/EFTA citizens).
However, obtaining a Swiss work permit is increasingly becoming more difficult. In 2015, against the backdrop of growing anti-immigration sentiment, the Swiss government reduced the number of work permits available for non-EU nationals and for assignees from EU/EFTA countries. The non-EU/EFTA quotas for short-term work permits (L permits) and for long-term work permits (B permits) were each reduced by 1,000, as was quota for short-term permits for EU/EFTA assignees. It is also expected that authorities will further increase the frequency and number of on-site labour inspections, meaning foreign employees should keep a file on site.
The immigration authorities have also tightened application practices, such as closer scrutinity of applications, increased salary requirements and stricter extension rules. These measures have made obtaining work permits more difficult but getting a Swiss work permit is still possible for those that meet the conditions, or work in a shortage industry. Switzerland in fact has one of the highest immigration rates in Europe, and twice that of Germany, with about one-fifth of the population foreign.
The annual quota is divided and released on a quarterly basis and expected to be full by the middle to end of each quarter, which means applications can be delayed until the quotas for the next quarter are released. To avoid rejections due to the quota, foreign nationals should submit work permit applications well in advance for work planned in 2015.
The information given here is for guidance only and you should seek specific advice from the Federal Office for Migration (FOM) or the Swiss embassy or consulate in your home country.
Who can get a work permit?
EU/EFTA citizens can freely enter Switzerland but must apply for work authorisation. Read more in our guide for EU/EFTA nationals moving to Switzerland. From 1 June 2017, the Swiss government will also apply quotas to work and residence permits granted to newer EU members, Romania and Bulgaria. The rest of this guide applies to non-EU/EFTA citizens only.
Non-EU/EFTA citizens will need to get a special residence permit with authorisation to work in Switzerland. This applies whether the employment contract is with a Swiss or a foreign company and whether the work is paid or unpaid. Whether or not you will be granted authorisation to work usually depends on existing work quotas, your educational level and work experience, and that no EU/EFTA candidate is available for the position.
You have to have authority to work before you enter the country; you cannot enter Switzerland as a tourist, a visitor or on a business trip, and then take on work. If you want to work, you have to leave Switzerland and then apply from your home country.
Once you have found employment, the employer then seeks authorisation for a work visa on your behalf from the authorities in Switzerland while you apply for an entry visa in your home country. You will get your residence and work permit when you arrive in Switzerland. This permit allows you to live – and work – in Switzerland.
Exceptions to this rule are students and relatives of holders of settlement permits, who may work without a permit so long as they inform the relevant authorities. For more information, see our guides on studying in Switzerland or moving to Switzerland to join a partner or relative.
Coming to Switzerland to work as an employee
First you need to find a job; see our guides on how to find a job and apply for a job in Switzerland. Once you have secured employment, your employer will submit an application to the local cantonal employment service, who will review and then refer the application on to the Federal Office for Migration (FOM) for approval. When considering your application, the FOM will take factors such as language skills, age and ability to integrate into account but authorisation will usually only be granted if:
- you are a manager, specialist or an otherwise qualified worker, that is, you hold a university degree, have specific expertise and several years of professional experience;
- the established quotas allow it;
- there is no Swiss or EU/EFTA (European Free Trade Association) person suitable for the position.
Applying for a Swiss work permit
Application forms and specific requirements will vary from canton to canton (find the contact details of all the Swiss cantonal authorities to ask more) but in general you will need to submit the following:
- a photocopy of your passport/travel ID data page;
- copies of job advertisements (press or online);
- evidence of other effort to get work;
- your CV;
- copies of qualifications, such as certificates or diplomas, which should be in German, French, Italian, or English (translated by an official translator if necessary);
- details about the university/place of higher education, such as dates, subjects, and grades.
Meanwhile, you should apply to the Swiss embassy or consulate in your home country for a visa to enter Switzerland or stay long-term (if you need one) – find out which entry visa you need in our complete guide to Swiss visas and permits.
The FOM will write to you, your employer and the canton with their decision and if authorisation has been granted, the cantonal office will inform the Swiss embassy or consulate to issue your visa. When you arrive in Switzerland, you then have 14 days to register with the Residents’ Registry Office through the local cantonal migration offices and get your residence permit. Once you have this, you can start work.
Types of Swiss resident and work permits
You may be issued with one of the following residence and work permits:
- Permit L – is a short-term residence permit that allows you to stay in Switzerland for up to one year. The L permit is tied to the terms of the employment contract and may be extended in exceptional cases for a further year but no more if you continue to work for the same employer.
- Permit B – is an initial or temporary residence permit that is valid for one year but can be extended annually, as long as there are no grounds for it not to be reissued, such as being a recipient of welfare benefits. These permits are issued on a quota basis and are tied to the same employer. The permits often specify that you live in the canton that issued the permit and cannot move out of that canton.
- Permit C – is a settlement permit for those who have been living for 10 continuous years in Switzerland; US and Canadian citizens only have to live for five continuous years to apply for a settlement permit. For more information, see our guide to Swiss citizenship and permanent residence.
Work in Switzerland as a self-employed person
Usually, you can only work in Switzerland in a self-employment capacity if you hold a settlement permit. This means you need to have already lived in Switzerland for five years or in some cases, 10 years. For more information, see Swiss citizenship and permanent residence. This rule does not apply if you are married to a Swiss citizen or can prove that your business or work will create jobs in Switzerland or serve some other economic interest.
Work in Switzerland as an au pair
You can come and work as an au pair in Switzerland if you are aged between 18 and 25 years old and only if you get a placement through an agency which is approved and licenced by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).
International trainee agreements
Switzerland has trainee agreements with a number of countries to allow young professionals to come and work in Switzerland for up to 18 months in order to develop their professional and language skills. The countries are: Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Philippines, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Ukraine and the US.
To qualify, you must:
- be a national from one of these countries;
- be between 18 and 35 years of age (20–30 if you’re from Australia, or 18–30 if you’re from New Zealand or Russia);
- have completed either vocational training (such as an apprenticeship) or hold a related degree.
Canadians can come to Switzerland as part of their bachelor degree and need to be able to provide proof of enrolment at a university or college; Japanese applicants must be graduates. The permit is granted for a maximum of 18 months but this can be taken as several different stays.
If you come to Switzerland on this basis, it’s up to you to find a suitable position, which must be in the profession for which you have studied or in which you have been trained. You are not allowed to work part time or as a self-employed worker and the salary must be in line with other jobs in the same location and sector.
Once you have found a position, you need to get at least three copies of the employment contract from the employer so that you can apply for a residence permit and temporary work permit using this application form. You’ll also need copies of your degree or diploma, your CV and a valid passport/travel ID document. These documents should be in German, French or English – you may need to have yours translated. You send the application to the authority in your home country who will forward it to the Swiss Federal Office for Migration (FOM) for their approval. Click here for more details on this procedure plus where to send your application in your home country.
If the permit is granted, Bulgarian, Romanian, Japanese, Monegasque and New Zealanders will be given a Zusicherung der Aufenthaltsbewilligung (pre-authorisation for a residency permit approved by the FOM). Together with a valid passport/ID card, this is all that is needed to enter Switzerland and start work.
Argentinians, Australians, Canadians, Filipinos, Russians, South Africans, Ukranians and Americans will need a visa to enter and stay in Switzerland for more than 90 days, so they will be issued with an Ermächtigung zur Visumerteilung (authorisation for the issuance of a visa (entry permit) approved by the FOM) and must then apply for a visa at the Swiss embassy/consulate in their home country. Read more information in our complete guide to Swiss visas and permits.
Trainees must register with the local Residents’ Registry office within 14 days of entering Switzerland.
Note: Switzerland has signed agreements with Brazil and Tunisia but they had not yet come into force at the time of writing – so check updates.
For more information
Federal Office for Migration (FOM): the Swiss government’s official site for information on all aspects of immigration to Switzerland.
+41 58 465 11 11 | Monday to Friday: 9–11am and 2–4pm.
Cantonal authorities: Each canton has its own cantonal immigration and labour market authorities that issue permits and will be able to provide detailed information on the application procedures. Find the contact details of your specific Swiss canton for information. Click here for the addresses of all the cantonal authorities, for online access via their websites and for the details of the communal authorities.
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