For members


Is a job offer enough to work in Switzerland as a non-EU/EFTA citizen?

If you come from a non-EU/EFTA state and would like to work in Switzerland, you will need to meet a range of admission requirements to be granted access to the Swiss employment market.

Citizens from non-EU/EFTA states must meet strict criteria to work in Switzerland. Photo by Bryan Dijkhuizen.

When it comes to hiring talent from outside its borders, Switzerland follows a dual system which favours workers from EU and EFTA states under the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons.

Each year, Switzerland admits only a limited number of highly qualified employees from other countries – known as third states – to the labour market.

According to the State Secretariat for Migration, experience has shown that workers with a degree from a university or an institution of higher education with several years of professional work experience under their belt have better long-term professional and social integration prospects than those with lower qualifications.

But does a job offer alone suffice to work in Switzerland as a non-EU/EFTA state citizen?

In short, no.

As exciting as the prospect of a new life in Switzerland may be, a job offer itself is sadly not enough to make you eligible for a work permit in Switzerland if you are a citizen of a non-EU/EFTA country.

In Switzerland, the admission of non-EU and non-EFTA state nationals is limited with the Federal Council determining the quota for permits on an annual basis. in 2023, the government has issued 8,500 permits for third-country employees (with the exception of UK nationals — see below).

Your employer will need to respect the principle that Swiss and EU/EFTA workers enjoy precedence when it comes to employment.

Your employer will need to apply one for you by showing that your qualifications and experience are in the best interest of the country’s economy.  in addition, they must prove that work  salary conditions are met prior to you being granted a permit.

What if I am a UK citizen?

Since January 1st, 2021, UK nationals are no longer citizens of the EU and are therefore subject to the same rules that apply to third-country nationals, including quotas.

However, they have a separate quota contingent — 3,500 permits set aside just for them. 

Are there any exceptions to the admission requirements?

Yes, in some cases legally regulated exceptions can be made that may allow you to work in Switzerland even if all admission criteria are not met.

For instance, senior managers or specialist staff being transferred by an international company may be allowed to work in Switzerland.

Similarly, employees in training as well as those are hoping to move for an internship or further education may also be allowed to work in Switzerland, so long as they work for a multi-national company (knowledge transfer) or are placed there (compulsory placement) while studying.

Those pursuing doctoral and post-doctoral studies in Switzerland may also seek employment in the country, though whether or not they can remain here after graduating is still being worked out on the legislative level.

Additionally, au-pairs and from non-EU/EFTA states between 18 and 25 years old may also move to Switzerland for up to 12 months.

What if I am a family member hoping to work in Switzerland?

If you are a family member of a Swiss national or an individual with a residence permit, you will not need to go through an additional permit process to take up employment or become self-employed.

Do I need a visa and residence permit to work in Switzerland if I already have a permanent residence permit for an EU/EFTA state?

If you are a citizen of a non-EU/EFTA state and hold a permanent residence permit for that state, you will still need to meet the admission conditions as everyone else who enters Switzerland directly from a third state country.

In Switzerland, being in possession of a permanent residence permit for an EU/EFTA state as a non-EU/EFTA citizen does not automatically grant you entrance to access to the Swiss employment market.

Generally, all non-EU/EFTA nationals will need an entry visa which can be obtained from Swiss authorities in your country after you have been granted a residence permit.

Although there are a couple of exceptions to this that are worth knowing about.

Can my employer second me to Switzerland for an indefinite period?

No, your employer may not second you to a job in Switzerland for an indefinite period.

However, if you are an employee of a corporation that has its registered office in an EU-27/EFTA state, your employer can in fact second you to a job in Switzerland for up to 90 days per calendar year.

In this case you will need to have previously been integrated long-term in the regular employment market of either an EU or EFTA member state, that is you must have a temporary or permanent residence permit for at least 12 months.

Your placement in Switzerland will then be governed by the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) between the EU and Switzerland and must be reported to the Swiss authorities.

If you are seconded to work in Switzerland for up to 90 days from a non-EU/EFTA state on the basis of the AFMP, you will not need a visa for your stay.

You will, however, be required to have on hand a valid, recognised travel document as well as a valid residence permit that has been issued by a Schengen member state.

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For members


Seven things non-EU nationals should know about moving to Switzerland

Switzerland has strict rules about foreigners who can live and work in the country, and under what conditions. Nationals of third countries face a slew of restrictions, but can move here under certain circumstances.

Seven things non-EU nationals should know about moving to Switzerland

If you a citizen of the European Union or EFTA countries (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), you have almost an unlimited access to the Swiss labour market and residence, as well as a shorter wait than most non-EU / EFTA nationals to the C permit.

You also have the right to change jobs and move from one canton to another.

READ ALSO: Just how freely can EU citizens move to (and within) Switzerland? 

All these rights don’t come as easily to people from outside the EU / EFTA, including UK and US nationals.

Can you still move to Switzerland if you are a national of these countries?

Yes, but this is what you should know:

The permits are subject to quotas

Each year, the Federal Council releases a set number of permits (also called “quotas”), allowing non-EU / EFTA nationals to work in Switzerland during the year.

Quotas for 2024 are the same as they have been for the past several years: 12,000 in all.

They consist of B and L permits, depending on the kind of employment individual foreigners are eligible for.

Out of the total number, 3,500 permits are set aside specifically for UK nationals, who are eligible for separate quotas as part of a transitional post-Brexit arrangement: 2,100 B and 1,400 L permits are just for them.

The remaining 8,500 permits are meant for other third-country workers.

Need-based attribution

How is the number of quotas determined each year?

Third-country quotas are set by each canton, depending on its economic needs.

The federal government then determines the total number of permits it will make available to each canton.

Clearly, the more “industrial” cantons like Zurich, Geneva, Basel, and Vaud will need a bigger contingent of foreign workers than rural cantons.

Not all of the available permits are distributed to applicants

Out of the maximum number of work permits set aside for UK citizens and other non-EU nationals, only a portion have been handed out.

Recent data from the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) indicates that in 2023, there was a quota “shortfall” – in other words, only a part of available third-country permits had been issued. 

Of the total of 12,000 permits, 7,480 were distributed among cantons for their non-EU / EFTA workforce – 848 (out of 3,500) were issued to UK nationals and 6,632 (out of 8,500) to people from other third countries.  

In fact, “this maximum number had not been fully utilised since 2017”, SEM’s spokesperson Samuel Wyss told The Local.

One reason, according to Wyss, is that “the admission of third-country nationals depends on the needs of the economy and employers” (read more about this below).

Additionally, a number of applicants don’t meet the eligibility criteria for the permit – ranging from the candidates’ professional qualifications to how sufficient a contribution they would make to Switzerland’s “overall economic interest”.

“If one or more of these requirements are not met, the permit will not be granted, even if there are still quotas available within the annual maximum numbers,” Wyss pointed out.

Swiss economy must really, really need you

According to SEM, “admission of third-state nationals to the Swiss labour market is only granted if it is in the interests of Switzerland and the Swiss economy as a whole”.

Furthermore, you must be a highly qualified specialist or skilled professional in your field. This means that you should have a degree from a university or an institution of higher education, as well as a number of years of professional work experience.

Nobody else can be found for the job

Even if you fulfill these requirements, you are not quite in the clear yet.

In Switzerland’s employment hierarchy, you can be hired only if the employer can prove to the authorities that no suitable Swiss or EU / EFTA candidate could be found to fill the vacant position.

This is demonstrated by one recent case of SEM refusing to grant permits to chefs from India to work in a new Indian restaurant set to open in Zurich: authorities said suitable personnel can be found locally.

READ ALSO: Famous Indian restaurant can’t open in Zurich after chefs denied permits 

There are some exemptions to these rules

“In certain cases, legally regulated exceptions from the admission requirements are possible,” SEM says, listing a number of exemptions to its general rules for non-EU / EFTA nationals.
They include:

  • Transfers of executives or specialists within international companies
  • Internships, training, and further education
  • Au pairs
  • Family members

READ ALSO: The little-known exceptions that allow non-EU nationals to work in Switzerland 

And there other exceptions as well…

If you are a third-country national who is a dual citizen – for instance, you also have a Swiss or a EU passport in addition to the one from a third country, then these rules don’t apply to you.

You can work in Switzerland without restrictions.

READ ALSO:  How can non-EU nationals apply for a Swiss work visa?