The UK and Switzerland have agreed to extend the Services Mobility Agreement ("SMA") for another three years to continue enabling British and Swiss professionals to work in each other's countries with greater flexibility until 31 December 2025.
This agreement became effective from 1 January 2021 and has been aimed at facilitating the delivery of professional services and contracts in the two countries by UK and Swiss professionals respectively. Its extension to 31 December 2025 will benefit the UK's professional services industry, including accounting, legal, and advertising companies, which make up around 80% of the UK's GDP.
What is the purpose of the SMA?
The SMA came into force following the end free movement of EU, EEA and Swiss citizens to the UK and British citizens to the EU, EEA and Switzerland as a result of Brexit. Its purpose is to allow:
- British professionals to work in Switzerland for up to 90 days in a calendar year without a Swiss work permit; and
- Swiss professionals to deliver contracts in the UK in a wide range of key sectors for up to 12 months at a time in any 24-month period through preferential access under the GBM Service Supplier visa, subject to certain length of service, qualification, and experience requirements.
The intention of the agreement is to encourage trade between the two countries in the professional services sector and provide certainty and continuity to businesses and the self-employed following the end of free movement. It also aims to facilitate an agreement on comprehensive recognition of professional qualifications of British and Swiss service suppliers.
However, despite the short-term certainty, a long-term free trade agreement with Switzerland has not been reached yet, with negotiations due to be initiated next year. The scope of the agreement is yet to be determined, but aside from being likely to include longer-term arrangements for service suppliers, it also represents an opportunity to negotiate bilateral youth mobility and other immigration-related arrangements.
British professionals looking to work in Switzerland for more than 90 days per calendar year (or those from sectors not covered by the SMA) will still be required to apply for a work permit; equally, Swiss professionals wishing to work in the UK under this agreement are still required to go through the Global Business Mobility (GBM) Service Supplier visa process.
The GBM Service Supplier route
This route is for service suppliers coming to the UK to provide services in line with one of the international trade agreements the UK is a party to.
'Service suppliers' are defined as contractual service suppliers employed by an overseas business, or self-employed independent professionals based overseas.
Under this route, applicants must:
- Have a certificate of sponsorship from a sponsor licenced for the GBM Service Supplier route, including a confirmation they will be paid at least the national minimum wage;
- Either be filling a job in an occupation listed as eligible for the GBM routes under Appendix Skilled Occupations, or have a university degree or equivalent technical qualification, subject to limited exceptions;
- Be working as or for the overseas service provider at the time of application and outside the UK for at least a cumulative period of 12 months;
- Normally have at least three years' professional experience in the sector they will be working in; and
- Meet certain requirements regarding being a national or permanent resident of the country they are based in.
Immigration permission under this route will be granted for up to 12 months if the relevant international agreement being relied on is the SMA.
What other routes are available to Swiss professionals wishing to work the UK?
Some other options include the following:
- The Service Providers from Switzerland (SPS) route under the UK-Swiss Citizens' Rights Agreement (CRA) for up to 90 days of work in a calendar year, noting that this must be under contractual arrangements commenced by 23:00 GMT on 31 December 2020 only, and with no restriction on nationality, sector or salary;
- Other Global Business Mobility (GBM) routes, such as Senior or Specialist Worker or Secondment Worker. More information on the GBM routes can be found in this article.
- The Skilled Worker route, if the role meets the skill and salary requirements; and
- The UK visitor route, which allows certain permitted business activities in the UK for up to six months at a time. It is important to remember that it is not the length of stay, but the type of activity undertaken that dictates whether a work permit is required. Permitted business activities for visitors include, but are not limited to:
- Attending meetings, conferences/seminars and interviews;
- Negotiating and signing contracts, attending trade fairs and carrying out site visits and inspections;
- Conducting general discussions to secure funding for a project; and
- Providing advice, consulting or trouble-shooting, giving training or sharing skills and knowledge on a specific internal project with UK employees of the same corporate group, provided no work is carried out directly with clients.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.