1 Legal framework
1.1 Which legislative and regulatory provisions govern corporate immigration in your jurisdiction?
The main sources governing corporate immigration in Switzerland are set out in:
- the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals and Integration (FNIA);
- the Federal Ordinance on Admission, Residence and Gainful Employment;
- the Federal Ordinance on Foreign Nationals and Integration;
- the Bilateral Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons between Switzerland and the Member States of the European Union;
- the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Convention;
- the Schengen Agreement; and
- the General Agreement on Trade and Services.
The immigration authorities – in particular, the top federal authority, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), and cantonal authorities (especially in the canton of Zurich) – publish guidelines to immigration law, which are an important interpretation aid but are not legally binding.
1.2 Do any special regimes apply in specific sectors?
There are no special regimes in industry sectors as such.
Switzerland's overall corporate immigration regime adheres to a dual system: the rules applicable to citizens of the EU and EFTA differ from those applicable to so-called ‘third country' nationals (non-EU/EFTA citizens). Whereas EU/EFTA citizens generally have free access to the labour market in Switzerland, only specialists, managers and other highly qualified workers from countries outside the EU/EFTA are admitted, and only in limited numbers under an annual quota system and subject to labour market testing conditions (recruitment priority for Swiss, EU and EFTA citizens).
1.3 Which government entities regulate immigration in your jurisdiction? What powers do they have?
Switzerland is governed under a federal system at three levels:
- the confederation (federal government);
- the cantons; and
- the municipalities.
While the main legislative provisions on immigration are issued by the federal government, the cantons are free in the organisation and administration of their immigration authorities.
The cantonal immigration authorities are responsible for deciding on the vast majority of immigration-related applications, and therefore for the application and enforcement of federal laws. In some cantons, a separate authority verifies employment-related applications (eg, in Zurich, the Office of Economy and Labour). The SEM is responsible for approving certain decisions of cantonal authorities, such as approvals of work permit applications of third-country nationals. The municipalities are mainly responsible for keeping population registers and therefore for the registration and deregistration of the foreign (and Swiss) population living within their borders.
1.4 What is the government's general approach to immigration in your jurisdiction?
Anti-immigration campaigns by conservative and right-wing Swiss political parties have gained media attention in Switzerland and internationally in the past years. This has obscured the fact that the Swiss authorities view immigration very positively overall. The government has no illusions about the fact that the Swiss national labour market cannot supply sufficient talent to meet the economy's needs in various sectors, such as IT and communications, top management, healthcare, hospitality and construction and engineering. At the same time, Swiss and EU/EFTA citizens enjoy priority on the job market; and quotas limit the number of work permits allocated to nationals of countries outside the EU/EFTA, even highly qualified workers. Some players in the economy are supportive of the current system, while others would like to change it to open up access to the Swiss labour market for more immigrants from non-EU/EFTA countries.
2 Business travel
2.1 Do business visitors need a visa to visit your jurisdiction? What restrictions and exemptions apply in this regard?
Nationals and residents of member states of the Schengen Area, the European Union and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) as well as nationals of many other countries (eg, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom) do not need any type of visa to travel to Switzerland for a maximum of 90 days in any 180-day period. Nationals of over 100 other countries must apply for a visa for any type of travel to Switzerland.
However, the title ‘business visa' (ie, a Schengen C visa with a designated purpose of ‘business') is of no legal significance and does not entitle the holder to exercise gainful activity in Switzerland. Entitlement to work and any work permits required are separate questions to be examined under Swiss law (see question 2.3).
2.2 Do the requirements vary depending on sector or purpose?
The conditions for granting any type of visa for entry into Switzerland depend on the nationality of the applicant and the purpose of entry, but generally not on the sector.
2.3 What is the maximum stay allowed for business visitors?
A stay in Switzerland (which is in the Schengen area) of maximum 90 days in any 180-day period is allowed for visa-exempt persons (see question 2.1) for any permissible purpose, including business.
2.4 What activities are business visitors allowed to conduct while visiting your jurisdiction?
In general, visa-exempt persons (see question 2.1) are not allowed to exercise gainful activity in Switzerland unless they hold the required work permits (see below). Business visitors without a work permit may only participate in the following non-gainful activities, as determined by the State Secretariat for Migration in its guidelines:
- business meetings;
- contract negotiations;
- scientific, economic, cultural, religious or sporting events;
- professional conferences, workshops and seminars; and
- theoretical or technical instruction courses without participation in work processes.
It is important to analyse each specific case to see whether the activities exercised by the visitor qualify as non-gainful or gainful activities. If the activities qualify as gainful, business visitors may still provide cross-border services or work in Switzerland on behalf of a foreign employer for up to eight days per calendar year with no work permit (except in certain fields, such as construction, hospitality and the erotic trade, where a work permit is required from the first day). However, if cross-border services are provided or work in Switzerland is performed on behalf of a foreign employer for more than eight days per calendar year, or if another category of work is performed, non-EU/EFTA citizens must obtain a work permit from the outset. If the activities of EU/EFTA citizens qualify as gainful, they may avail of a special notification procedure for activity of up to 90 days per calendar year without obtaining a work permit, but must obtain a work permit for activities lasting more than 90 days per calendar year (see question 3.1).
2.5 Is authorisation required for business visitors to provide or receive short-term training?
No, not as long as such activity does not qualify as gainful activity (see question 2.4).
3 Work permits
3.1 What are the main types of work permit in your jurisdiction? What restrictions and exemptions apply in this regard?
Switzerland's dual system means that the rules differ significantly for obtaining work permits for EU/European Free Trade Association (EFTA) citizens on the one hand and for third-country nationals (non-EU/EFTA citizens) on the other.
Based on the Bilateral Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons between Switzerland and the Member States of the European Union (AFMP), EU/EFTA citizens are basically deemed to have equal rights as Swiss citizens in terms of freedom of movement and access to the labour market in Switzerland, and have a legal claim to a work permit under certain conditions. The situation is different for third-country nationals. As a general rule, only specialists, managers and other highly qualified persons are granted permits; and the number of permits is subject to annual quotas and subject to a labour market test condition (recruitment priority for Swiss, EU and EFTA citizens) (see question 7.1). Furthermore, work permits granted to third-country nationals may be restricted to employment for a specific employer; or their renewal may be linked to achievement of certain objectives or the acquisition of local language skills.
The main types of procedures and work permits in Switzerland are as follows.
Notification procedure: The following categories of persons are permitted to reside and work in Switzerland without a work permit for up to 90 days. The employer need only file notification with the competent authorities via a simple online form no later than eight days before work begins:
- EU/EFTA nationals employed by an employer based in Switzerland;
- posted workers from an employer based in an EU/EFTA member state, regardless of the employee's citizenship (however, third-country nationals must have been employed for at least one year before being posted to Switzerland); and
- self-employed EU/EFTA nationals based in an EU/EFTA member state and providing services in Switzerland.
L permit: The L permit is a short-term permit granted to persons residing and working in Switzerland for a limited period, usually less than one year. An L permit may also be obtained for four consecutive months or 120 days in a calendar year.
The permit is granted to:
- EU/EFTA nationals with an employment contract with a Swiss employer of three to 12 months' duration, as well as posted workers or cross-border service providers whose stay is extended beyond the 90-day notification period;
- EU/EFTA nationals seeking work in Switzerland for between three and 12 months; and
- third-country nationals employed in Switzerland for up to 12 months.
B permit: The B permit is a regular permit granted to foreign nationals residing and working in Switzerland for over one year. The permit is granted to:
- EU/EFTA nationals with an employment contract with a Swiss employer with a duration of at least one year or with an unlimited duration;
- self-employed EU/EFTA nationals; and
- third-country nationals employed or self-employed in Switzerland for more than one year.
G permit: The G permit is granted to cross-border commuters residing in an EU/EFTA member state and returning to their main place of residence abroad at least once a week.
Under the AFMP, EU/EFTA nationals require no permit for cross-border commuting from an EU/EFTA member country (not necessarily a state bordering on Switzerland) for employment or self-employment in Switzerland. For them, the G ‘permit' is merely a confirmation that the conditions of the AFMP are fulfilled and they have a legal claim to the G permit. Third-country nationals may be granted a G permit at the discretion of the Swiss authorities if they:
- have permanent right of residence in a neighbouring state;
- have resided in the neighbouring border zone for at least six months; and
- are gainfully employed within the Swiss border zone.
3.2 What is the maximum stay allowed under each type of work permit? Can this be extended?
Notification procedure: The maximum stay is up to 90 days per calendar year. For longer stays, a work permit must be obtained.
- EU/EFTA nationals: The L permit is granted for up to one year (or corresponding to the length of the employment contract). The permit holder has a right to indefinite extension/renewal as long as the employment contract is renewed or a new contract is concluded. Certain exceptions exist, especially for workers holding an L permit valid for four consecutive months or 120 days in a calendar year.
- Third-country nationals: The L permit is granted for up to one year (or corresponding to the length of the employment contract) and can be extended for up to one further year. After this, the holder must leave Switzerland for at least one year. Certain exceptions apply.
- EU/EFTA nationals: As a rule, the B permit is granted for two or five years at a time. The holder has a right to indefinite extension/renewal as long as the employment contract is renewed or a new one is concluded, or as long as self-employment continues.
- Third-country nationals: As a rule, the B permit is granted for one year at a time at first. There is no legal claim to extension or renewal of the B permit. However, if employment or self-employment continues and there are no reasons for the permit to be revoked, the permit will usually be extended.
- EU/EFTA citizens: The G permit is granted for five years at a time. The holder has a right to indefinite extension as long as the conditions of the AFMP are fulfilled.
- Third-country nationals: As a rule, the G permit is granted for one year at a time. Holders do not have a legal claim to extension or renewal of the permit, but if the conditions are fulfilled, the permit will usually be extended. After five years of uninterrupted employment, the holder has a legal claim to extension of the G permit.
3.3 What criteria must be satisfied to obtain each kind of permit?
The criteria reflect Switzerland's dual system. For EU/EFTA citizens, obtaining a permit is generally subject only to the conclusion of an employment agreement or proof of self-employment. With very few exceptions, there are no professional qualification requirements.
For third-country nationals, the criteria to obtain a work permit are quite restrictive and, with few exceptions, there is no legal claim to a permit. Permits are generally only granted to specialists, managers and other highly qualified individuals. A notable exception are dependants of third-country nationals in possession of a B or C permit, who may exercise gainful activity in Switzerland without the need to apply for a work permit.
Briefly summarised, the requirements for obtaining a permit for employment or self-employment of third-country nationals are as follows:
- The applicant fulfils personal requirements: The applicant is a highly qualified individual and his or her profession, ability to adapt, language skills and other factors speak in favour of successful integration in Switzerland;
- There were no suitable Swiss, EU or EFTA citizen candidates for the activity;
- The annual quota for the requested work permit has not yet been exhausted (see question 3.5);
- The activity is in the interest of the economy as a whole;
- Suitable accommodation is available; and
- In case of employment:
- the local, professional and industry-standard wage and working conditions are complied with; and
- the future employer has submitted an application for a work permit for the prospective employee; or
- In case of self-employment, the applicant has the necessary financial and operational resources to launch the activity.
3.4 Do any language requirements apply for each kind of permit?
Proficiency in a Swiss national language is not a requirement to obtain a work permit. However, the authorities may also make renewal of a permit for non-EU/EFTA citizen employees conditional on the acquisition of local language skills.
Language skills are also a requirement for obtaining the C permit (settlement permit) (see question 4).
3.5 Are any work permits subject to quotas?
Yes, the following types of work permits are subject to annual quotas:
- permits for third-country nationals (except UK citizens);
- permits for EU/EFTA cross-border service providers; and
- permits for UK citizens.
The quotas are distributed to the cantons by the federal authorities on a quarterly basis. For example, for 2022, the quotas for third-country nationals (except UK citizens) are 4,000 L permits and 4,500 B permits. Following Brexit, the Swiss government established a separate quota category for UK citizens so that Swiss companies could continue recruiting sufficient qualified employees from the United Kingdom.
The quotas do not apply in case of permit renewal or a change of employer by a permit holder already in possession of a valid permit.
3.6 Do any specific rules apply with regard to the following:
(a) Work in specific sectors?
(b) Shortage occupations?
(c) Highly skilled workers?
(d) Investors and high-net worth individuals?
(a) Work in specific sectors?
In general, no.
(b) Shortage occupations?
No official rules apply for occupations where there is a shortage of workers. However, the authorities will certainly be more flexible when deciding on permit applications in sectors where specialists are in short supply.
(c) Highly skilled workers?
In principle only highly skilled third-country nationals are admitted to the Swiss job market (see question 3.3).
(d) Investors and high-net-worth individuals?
Investors may be exempted from the personal requirements normally applicable to third-country nationals applying for a work permit (high qualifications and successful integration prospects). High-net-worth individuals as such are not exempted; the person must rather qualify as an investor or entrepreneur who is creating or maintaining jobs in Switzerland. Besides the work permits described herein, there are also other paths to obtaining residence permits in Switzerland for investors and high-net-worth individuals.
3.7 What are the formal and documentary requirements for obtaining each kind of permit?
The formal and documentary requirements may vary slightly by place of residence and competent authority, but are generally as follows.
The documents required for an application for an L or B permit for an EU/EFTA citizen are generally:
- a passport;
- an employment contract or proof of self-employment;
- an accommodation rental or purchase agreement; and
- civil status documents such as marriage and birth certificates (if family members are arriving with the applicant).
The documents required for an application for an L or B permit for a third-country national are generally:
- a passport copy, CV and copies of diplomas and professional certificates;
- an employment contract or self-employment business plan;
- evidence that there were no suitable Swiss, EU or EFTA citizen candidates for a position and that the position was advertised with the regional unemployment office (if applicable; see question 7.1);
- a well-founded written request setting out the fulfilment of all requirements (see question 3.3); and
- civil status documents such as marriage and birth certificates (if family members are arriving with the applicant).
In the case of a G permit, an application submitted by the employer with confirmation of the employment of the applicant, a copy of the applicant's passport and proof of residence must be submitted. Self-employed EU/EFTA citizen applicants submit the G permit application themselves.
3.8 What fees are payable to obtain each kind of permit?
Each migration authority sets its own fees; however, the maximum cantonal fees for all decisions under the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals and Integration (FNIA) are regulated in the Swiss Federal Ordinance on Fees for the FNIA (FNIA Ordinance). For example, for EU/EFTA nationals and employees of an employer domiciled in an EU/EFTA member state, the maximum fee for the issuance of a permit is CHF 65. For third-country nationals, the maximum fee is CHF 95. To these fees are added fees of any other authorities examining the application, such as any work permit authority (eg, in Zurich, the Office for Economy and Labour) and the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).
Overall, the fees for obtaining a work permit in any Swiss canton will generally not exceed CHF 500 and in many cases will be much lower.
3.9 What is the process for obtaining a permit? How long does this typically take?
EU/EFTA nationals apply for a L or B permit after arriving in Switzerland and if their stay is to last longer than 90 days (the notification procedure applies for up to 90 days; see question 3.1). The applicant must appear in person at the municipal residents' registration office at his or her place of residence and submit an application within 14 days of arrival. After checking the documents (see question 3.7), the registration office will forward them to the cantonal migration authorities, which will issue the permit. The length of the process depends on the canton and the authorities' workload, but it normally takes no longer than three to four weeks to receive the permit card.
Approvals of applications for L or B permits for third-country nationals (and, if applicable, a long-term entry visa for a stay of over 90 days) must be obtained before entry into Switzerland. In case of employment, the employer submits the application; in case of self-employment, the applicant submits the application. The competent authority is determined by local law. In Zurich, for example, the request must be submitted to the work permit department of the Office for Economy and Labour by post or through a convenient online platform. Certain applications that are approved by cantonal authorities are forwarded to the SEM for approval – in particular, approvals of work permits for third-country nationals. The length of the process depends on the canton and the workload of the authorities, and can take up to three months or longer in exceptional cases. After arrival in Switzerland, the individual must also register at the municipal residents' registration office at his or her place of residence and will receive a permit card.
In the case of a G permit, the employer submits the application to the competent authority at the place of work and confirms the employment of the applicant (except in case of self-employment of an EU/EFTA citizen). A copy of the applicant's passport and proof of residence must also be submitted. It normally takes no longer than three to four weeks to receive the permit card.
3.10 Once a work permit has been obtained, what are the rights and obligations of the permit holder? What are the penalties in case of breach?
EU/EFTA citizens holding any type of work permit are free to change their place of residence within Switzerland, change employers and take up self-employment without further authorisation. Third-country nationals holding an L permit must request authorisation to move to and exercise gainful activity in a different canton. B permit holders may exercise gainful activity in any canton, but must obtain authorisation to reside in that new canton. They also require authorisation to take up self-employment. Penalties for exercise of an unauthorised gainful activity may be sanctioned by a fine or, in serious cases, by a prison sentence of up to one year.
Work permits expire, among other things:
- upon the end of their period of validity; or
- after an uninterrupted stay abroad of three months (L permit) or six months (B permit).
The competent authority can also revoke permits:
- for reasons of public order, safety and health; or
- for third-country nationals:
- in case a condition of granting the permit is not complied with;
- in case of dependence on social welfare; or
- in case of sentencing for certain grave crimes.
4.1 What are the criteria for obtaining settlement in your jurisdiction? What restrictions apply in this regard?
The Swiss settlement permit (or permanent residence permit), called the C permit, can be granted to EU/ European Free Trade Association citizens and third-country nationals upon fulfilment of the following conditions:
- residence in Switzerland for at least 10 years, including the last five years without interruption with a B permit;
- demonstration of sufficient proficiency in the local language of the place of residence (oral level A2 and written level A1); and
- no reason for revocation of the C permit under the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals and Integration (FNIA) (eg, no threat to national security or continuous reliance on social welfare).
Various exceptions to these requirements exist, such as the following:
- Nationals of certain countries (including Germany, Austria, France, Italy and Liechtenstein) are only required to have lived in Switzerland for at least five years without interruption and with a valid B permit and have a legal claim to the C permit if the conditions are fulfilled; and
- The C permit can be granted to any applicant after five years of residence without interruption if the individual is well integrated (eg, work and/or education, participation in local clubs or activities) and demonstrates language proficiency in the local language (oral level B1 and written level A1).
The C permit is not tied to any conditions and is granted for an indefinite period. It may only be revoked on certain extraordinary grounds. The C permit grants holders the freedom to reside and exercise gainful activity anywhere in Switzerland.
4.2 Do any specific rules apply to foreign citizens with ancestral connections?
No such specific rules apply for obtaining the C permit.
4.3 What are the formal and documentary requirements for obtaining settlement?
In general, the following documents must be submitted with an application for a C permit:
- extracts from the debt collection registers of all municipalities of residence of the last three years;
- confirmations from the social welfare authorities of all municipalities of residence of the last three years regarding any social welfare payments to the applicant and his or her dependants; and
- proof of local language proficiency (nationals of certain countries – including Austria, Germany, France, Denmark and Italy – as well as spouses of nationals of Germany, Austria and Denmark, are exempt from this requirement).
If the applicant is applying for a C permit on the basis of good integration (see question 4.1), proof of language proficiency and integration (eg, certificates from employers, educational courses, associations and volunteer work) should be submitted along with a motivation letter.
4.4 What fees are payable to obtain settlement?
The maximum cantonal fee for issuance of a C permit is regulated in the FNIA Ordinance and is currently CHF 95.
4.5 What is the process for obtaining settlement? How long does this typically take?
An application must be filed with the competent migration authorities at the place of residence – normally with the residents' registration office, which will forward the application to the cantonal migration authorities. How long issuance of the C permit takes depends on the canton and the authorities' workload, but this is normally between two and six weeks.
If an individual has a legal claim to the C permit (see question 4.1), the authorities may notify the individual of their own accord after he or she meets the criteria for issuing the permit.
4.6 Is the settlement process the same for EU citizens?
The settlement process and requirements are the same for EU citizens, except that citizens of certain EU states benefit from a reduction of the residence requirement from 10 to five years (see question 4.1).
5.1 What are the criteria to qualify as a dependant? What restrictions apply in this regard?
Under the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals and Integration (FNIA), the spouse and children under the age of 18 are deemed dependants of a third-country national permit holder under the following conditions:
- The dependant and permit holder live together;
- Their accommodation is deemed appropriate (ie, in size); and
- Family reunification does not entail any significant or continued dependence on social welfare.
For EU/ European Free Trade Association (EFTA) citizen permit holders in Switzerland, the Bilateral Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons between Switzerland and the member states of the European Union (AFMP) extends the definition of ‘dependants' to the following persons, under the condition that appropriate accommodation is given:
- spouses and descendants under the age of 21 or who are financially dependent on the permit holder; and
- ascendants – that is, parents and grandparents of the permit holder and his or her spouse, who are financially dependent on the permit holder or who live together with the permit holder abroad.
The deadline for family reunification of spouses and children under the age of 12 with the permit holder in Switzerland is generally five years. For children over the age of 12, the deadline is 12 months.
5.2 What rights do dependants enjoy once admitted as such?
Under the FNIA and the Federal Ordinance on Admission, Residence and Gainful Employment (OARG), spouses and children under 18 of permit B and C holders have access to the labour market throughout Switzerland without the need to obtain authorisation.
Under the FNIA and OARG, spouses and children under 18 of permit L holders may take up employment upon authorisation by the competent migration authority if:
- a request for a work permit is submitted by an employer;
- the working and salary conditions respect Swiss standards; and
- the personal requirements are fulfilled (see question 3.3).
For EU/EFTA citizens, under the AFMP, dependants admitted within the framework of family reunification have a legal claim to access to the labour market without having to apply for a permit.
5.3 How are civil/unmarried partners and same-sex partners treated in this regard?
Under Swiss law, partners in a registered same-sex partnership are deemed to have equal rights to married couples. In particular, same-sex partners have the right to family reunification with the permit holder in Switzerland.
Unmarried partners, whether same-sex or of different sexes, are not considered family members and do not have a right to family reunification as such. However, Switzerland recognises that the European Convention of Human Rights also protects other types of family relationships besides married partners. Unmarried partners are therefore generally granted the same rights, as long as a close and real relationship similar to a marriage and of a duration of at least three years is given.
6 Intra-company transfers
6.1 Is there a specific regime for the transfer of employees from an overseas branch of a multinational to your jurisdiction?
Yes, there are generally two routes available for inter-group transfers of non-EU/European Free Trade Association (EFTA) citizen employees to a Swiss legal entity or a branch of an international group of companies. The advantage is that such transfers are not subject to the usual labour market test condition (no recruitment priority for Swiss, EU and EFTA citizens) (see question 7.1).
Based on the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS), inter-group transfers are possible for so-called ‘essential persons'. ‘Essential persons' are defined as:
- executives or senior managers whose task is to manage the company or one of its departments and who answer only to the board or shareholders; and
- highly qualified specialists whose advanced expertise is essential for the provision of a service of the group.
Based on the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals and Integration (FNIA) and the Federal Ordinance on Admission, Residence and Gainful Employment (OARG), inter-group transfers are possible for executives, senior managers and indispensable specialists. According to the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), executives and senior managers are persons with the power to make decisions within the company, and indispensable specialists are highly qualified persons for the economy or in research.
The above rules generally apply to transfers of third-country national employees. EU/EFTA citizens in principle have free access to the Swiss labour market and may be directly employed by the Swiss entity or seconded to Switzerland.
6.2 What is the maximum stay allowed under this regime? Can this be extended?
Under the GATS, the maximum stay for essential persons is four years. For permits granted under the FNIA/Federal Ordinance on Foreign Nationals and Integration, the usual rules apply (see question 3.2).
6.3 What criteria must the employer satisfy to obtain a permit under this regime?
Based on the GATS, inter-group transfers are possible under the following conditions:
- The employee has worked for the group outside of Switzerland for at least one year immediately preceding the application;
- The employee is considered an essential person (see question 6.1); and
- The general conditions of the FNIA for obtaining a work permit are met, except for the labour market test condition (see question 6.1).
Alternatively, under the FNIA and OARG, inter-group transfers are possible under the following conditions:
- The employee is an executive, senior manager or highly qualified specialist;
- The transfer serves the economic interests of Switzerland;
- The annual quotas are respected (see question 3.5);
- The applicable minimum salary and working conditions are complied with; and
- The employee has adequate accommodation.
Also here, there is no labour market test condition (see question 6.1).
6.4 What are the formal and documentary requirements to obtain a permit under this regime?
The employer must file a permit application documenting fulfilment of the relevant criteria (see question 6.3) with the competent cantonal migration authority.
For the formal and documentary requirements for fulfilment of the general conditions under the FNIA, see question 3.7.
6.5 What fees are payable to obtain a permit under this regime?
The fees range between CHF 500 and CHF 1,000.
6.6 What is the process for obtaining a permit? How long does this typically take?
The employer must file a permit application documenting fulfilment of the relevant criteria (see question 6.3) with the competent cantonal migration authority. In the case of an application for a third-country national, once the application has been approved by the cantonal authorities, it will be subject to the SEM's approval. The length of the process depends on the canton and the authorities' workload, but it normally takes up to three months.
7 New hires
7.1 Are employers in your jurisdiction bound by labour market testing requirements before hiring from overseas? Do any exemptions apply in this regard?
Employment of EU/European Free Trade Association (EFTA) citizens is not subject to labour market testing, as EU/EFTA citizens in principle have free access to the Swiss labour market.
Employers that wish to hire non-EU/EFTA citizens must demonstrate fulfilment of the labour market testing requirement – that is, that there were no suitable Swiss, EU or EFTA citizen candidates to fill the position (see question 3.3).
Furthermore, special restrictions apply for occupations where the national unemployment rate is at least 5%. A list of such occupations is published every year by the Swiss government and employers must register vacancies in these fields with their regional unemployment office. The employer may not advertise the job elsewhere for five days after publication. If the employer violates this requirement, the authorities will not grant any permit application to fill such a position.
Exemptions from the labour market testing requirement exist in the following cases:
- inter-group transfers (see question 6.1);
- certain dependants of B and C permit holders (see question 5.2); and
- holders of a Swiss higher education diploma whose work is deemed to be of a high scientific or economic value.
7.2 If labour market testing requirements apply, how are these satisfied and what best practices should employers follow in this regard?
Employers should make adequate and usual search efforts as per best practice in the relevant industry by publishing job ads on general and specialised job search websites and/or publications, as well as with the regional unemployment office and with the European Job Mobility Portal, for an adequate period of time. Proof of such ads should be submitted together with the work permit application. Employers should also demonstrate that no suitable candidates were found – for example, by keeping details such as the following:
- a list of candidates;
- any interviews held;
- their qualifications; and
- the reasons for rejection.
A summary of this list can also be submitted together with the application (in anonymised form).
7.3 Which work permits are primarily used for new hires? What is the process for obtaining them and what fees are applicable, for both employer and employee?
The main types of permits are as follows (see question 3.1):
- L permit: Short-term permit granted for a short assignment of usually less than one year;
- B permit: Regular permit granted for assignments of one year or more; and
- G permit: Permit granted to cross-border commuters residing in an EU/EFTA member state and returning to their main place of residence at least once a week.
For fees, see question 3.8.
7.4 Is labour market testing required if the new hire is to extend his or her residence?
No, extensions of existing permits do not require the employer to prove that no suitable Swiss, EU or EFTA citizen candidates could be found. The permit will normally be extended if:
- employment or self-employment is ongoing;
- any conditions or requirements for extension of the permit are fulfilled (in the case of third-country nationals); and
- no reasons to revoke the permit are given.
7.5 Can new hires apply for permanent residence?
No, permanent residence permits are subject to the minimum residence periods and other requirements as per question 4.1, and are not granted to new hires. An exception exists for professors at Swiss institutions of higher education and their dependants, who as a rule receive a C permit immediately (without, however, having a legal claim to it).
8.1 Are any licences or authorisations required to sponsor foreign nationals? What other criteria apply in this regard?
No licences or authorisations are required, and any Swiss employer may sponsor a foreign national. However, non-EU/European Free Trade Association (EFTA) citizen sponsored employees must be specialists or other highly qualified employees (see question 3.3). There are no restrictions with regard to EU/EFTA citizens working for a Swiss employer.
8.2 What obligations do sponsoring employers have to ensure continued immigration compliance?
Employers must ensure that their employees are in possession of a valid work permit or are otherwise properly registered. Employers must also comply with applicable Swiss labour laws and collective labour agreements regarding minimum wages and working conditions.
8.3 Are sponsoring employers subject to any local training requirements?
8.4 How is compliance with the sponsorship regime monitored? What are the penalties for non-compliance?
There is no compliance monitoring of the sponsorship regime as such, but the immigration authorities do monitor the compliance of employers and foreign nationals with immigration reporting and permit requirements. Employers may be subject to random inspection and audit, especially in industries with a historical risk of violations, such as the construction industry. Employers that employ persons who are not entitled to exercise gainful activity in Switzerland can be punished by a fine and/or imprisonment of up to three years. Employees who work in Switzerland without a valid permit can be:
- imprisoned for up to one year; and/or
- banned from entering the Schengen area for a certain period of time.
9 Trends and predictions
9.1 How would you describe the current immigration landscape and prevailing trends in your jurisdiction? Are any new developments anticipated in the next 12 months, including any proposed legislative reforms?
Switzerland is one of the countries with the highest proportion of foreign residents in the world: slightly above 25%, or around 2.2 million people out of a total population of about 8.5 million. The number of immigrants arriving in Switzerland increased annually until 2016 and has declined slightly every year from 2017 to 2020. Most immigrants come from the EU/European Free Trade Association (EFTA), with Germany, France and Italy topping the list.
Several anti-immigration initiatives since 2000 have received significant media attention in Switzerland and abroad. In particular, a people's initiative entitled "Against Mass Immigration", which aimed to heavily limit immigration, made waves when it was adopted by 50.3% of voters in 2014. However, the initiative was implemented by the legislature as weakly as possible, resulting only in a requirement for employers to advertise jobs in sectors in which national unemployment is higher than 5% with their regional unemployment office (see question 7.1). Switzerland's immigration laws have been slightly amended and generally tightened in recent years, particularly concerning integration criteria and language skill requirements, but will likely remain stable in the next 12 months. There are no legislative overhauls planned.
Switzerland's fairly restrictive immigration policies towards non-EU/EFTA citizens may prove an issue for the economy. Despite the increasing need on the Swiss labour market for specialised workers, particularly to facilitate a quick post-pandemic economic recovery, immigration of EU/EFTA citizens to Switzerland is stagnating, while annual quotas for third-country nationals have not been increased. Although government and industry leaders have no illusions about the fact that immigration is vital to the Swiss economy, there is not enough political will to relax restrictive immigration policies towards third-country nationals. Studies point to a risk of workforce shortages in the next 30 years of, for example, over 200,000 workers in the canton of Zurich alone. Switzerland may therefore need to start relaxing its immigration policies in the next few years.
10 Tips and traps
10.1 What are your top tips for businesses seeking to recruit talent from abroad and what potential sticking points would you highlight?
Attracting talent from abroad might not be the biggest challenge for modern Swiss employers – Switzerland has one of the highest standards of living in the world – but employers often complain about the cumbersome and lengthy permit application process for non-EU/European Free Trade Association citizen employees. Proper planning of the job advertising and application process, and excellent reasoning in the application, are key to avoid rejection. The fulfilment of all requirements – in particular, high-level qualifications and the labour market testing requirement – must be properly demonstrated in the initial application, since an appeal has a very low chance of success due to the immigration authorities' wide discretion. Also, in any permit application process, a professional and respectful approach to towards the authorities and a perfectly organised, properly filed application and supporting documents are essential.
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