26 February 2020

Switzerland has long been an international business hub with a continuous two-way traffic in money, people and knowhow. Recent changes in the banking world and the political sentiment around immigration have started to affect the stability of this position.


While workers from the European Union (EU) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) benefit from a very liberal system of mobility, nationals from countries outside the EU/EFTA are subject to stringent admission requirements and quantitative limitations. These high admission requirements allow Switzerland to manage its immigration in a way that safeguards the country's overall economic interest. Establishing a business in Switzerland is also subject to strict criteria and usually tied to significant investments. Swiss immigration law does not provide for standardized investor visas (or so-called "golden visas"). Some Cantons allow for lump sum taxation for wealthy foreign individuals. In this case, the individuals in question will be granted a residence permit. However, no gainful activity may be carried out in this scenario.

Dual System for Work and Residence Permits

Switzerland follows a dual system for authorizing foreign nationals access to the Swiss labor market. This means that workers from EU/EFTA states are granted easier access to the Swiss labor market, whereas nationals of all other countries, so-called "third-country nationals", are subject to stringent admission requirements.

Admission requirements for EU/EFTA nationals

The admission of EU/EFTA nationals to the Swiss labor market is governed by the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons between the EU and Switzerland ("Free Movement Agreement"). The Free Movement Agreement has been in force since 2002 and allows EU/EFTA citizens to work and live in Switzerland without having to go through a formal application process. As long as the EU/EFTA national in question has an employment contract with a Swiss employer and the anti-dumping laws are respected, he or she is entitled to work and to take up residence in Switzerland.

Whereas nationals from the EU-27 countries all fully benefit from the Free Movement Agreement, Croatian nationals remain subject to transitory measures (until the end of 2023 at the latest). This means that Croatian nationals are subject to separate quotas on access to the Swiss labor market and their admission remains subject to a formal examination and application procedure.

Admission requirements for third-country nationals

Work and residence permits for third-country nationals are subject to strict admission requirements according to the Swiss Foreign Nationals and Integration Act ("FNIA"). This includes, inter alia, a high level of education and specialization (usually a Master's degree is required), a rather high salary and proof that no Swiss or EU/EFTA national could be recruited for the position, despite endeavors on several platforms during up to three months (priority requirement for Swiss and EU/EFTA workers). The priority requirement is only waived in case of so-called GATS transfers (according to the General Agreement on Trade in Services) where high-ranking employees are transferred to Switzerland via intra-group transfers.

Do you have any questions regarding work permit requirements? Our Immigration Team will be happy to advise you.

Authors: Biljana Vasic, Urs Haegi

Topics: ImmigrationResidence permitWork permit


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