Residence and work permits

Anyone wanting to live in Switzerland needs to obtain a residence permit. To work in the country, it may be necessary to obtain a work permit as well.

There are several different types of permit which are endowed with different work and residence rights. A limited number of permits are available every year. They are assigned principally by the cantons within the quotas allotted to them by the Swiss government.

General regime / EU/EFTA citizens

The process of granting residence permits to citizens of the European Union and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) was greatly simplified on June 1, 2004, when the agreement with the European Union (EU) on the free movement of persons came into force.

  • It is no longer necessary to obtain a permit where the employment is for a period of less than three months. A simple notice placed online on the homepage of the relevant federal authority is enough for the worker to take up his or her position with immediate effect
  • It is still necessary to obtain a residence permit if the period of economic activity is longer than three months. The request is submitted to the registration office in the place of residence or, if the person is a cross-border commuter, the place of economic activity. The permit is granted by the population service (SPOP) on the basis of the registration notification and the application form available on its homepage. The intended economic activity may be taken up immediately without waiting for the authorization to come through

These new regulations apply to all citizens of EU countries that have signed the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons.

However, under the protocol extending this agreement which came into force on April 1, 2006, workers from the new member states of the EU (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia) will not be accorded free movement before April 1, 2011. This protocol does not cover either Bulgaria or Romania. Nationals of these two countries are thus still considered third-country nationals.

Third-country nationals

As a general rule, residence and work permits are only granted to citizens of member states of the EU and EFTA. If he or she is a national of a third country, the candidate may not hold a residence permit unless he or she is a recognized specialist or called to carry out senior management duties within the company. The procedures and channels used to request a work permit for a foreign national are basically the same for all types of permit:

Once it has been created, the complete file is submitted by the employer to notify the local immigration office (Bureau des étrangers). It is then forwarded to the cantonal authorities that deal with the labour market and the immigration service. If the conditions of granting are satisfied, the employment agency will send a preliminary decision to the employer and the file is forwarded to the federal authorities for approval.