Swiss work permits apply in common to all foreigners, whether they are EU or EFTA nationals or third country nationals (outside the EU). However, the conditions for issuing this work permit vary greatly depending on the country of origin of the foreign worker. This means that not all nationals have the same “freedoms”, even if they hold the same work permit.
Is a work permit really mandatory for foreigners in Switzerland?
For a foreigner to be a worker in Switzerland, an employment contract is not enough; a Swiss work permit is required. Although it is always wrong to call a work permit a “visa” or “work visa”, it is not advisable to use these terms in communications with the cantonal authorities. To work in Switzerland, a foreigner must already have a work permit before moving. Some moving companies in Geneva offer to help you. Simply send them your file and they will tell you if it is enough to clear customs. A Swiss work permit is essentially an official document issued by the cantonal population office, which authorizes you to work in Switzerland.
What about exit permits for EU nationals?
Among the existing exit permits in Switzerland, the most important is the work permit for citizens of EU and EFTA countries who have been established for a long time. These are covered by the agreement on the free movement of persons. The countries involved include France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Greece, Iceland, etc. However, they are no longer under the quota principle for long-term residence permits since June 1, 2007.
The main types of work permits for EU citizens (except Bulgaria and Romania) are: B permit, L permit (short-term residents), C permit and G permit (permit for cross-border workers).
Work permits for citizens of “other” EU member states
Citizens of eight Eastern European countries that joined the EU have since benefited from the extension of the agreement on the free movement of persons. These are the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia.
For the nationals concerned, the control of permit quotas, national priorities and salary conditions has been abolished since 1 May 2011. On the other hand, nationals from Romania and Bulgaria have benefited from the extension of the agreement on the free movement of persons until April 2016.
Work permits for nationals of other countries (third-country nationals)
Citizens of non-EU and EFTA countries are subject to the Residence Act (which is different from the Free Movement of Persons Act). In addition to stricter entry conditions (priority to nationality for recruitment, salary controls), they are also subject to the quota principle (only a limited number of Swiss permits are reserved). According to the established laws, only third country nationals with a university degree (or very specific skills) have a realistic chance of obtaining a work permit in Switzerland.
Biometric work permit
As a signatory to the Schengen Agreement, Switzerland is required to issue biometric work and residence permits to certain of its citizens. These permits are the B permit (residence permit), the C permit (settlement permit) and the L permit (short-term residence permit). Biometric work permits consist of a chip containing a digital photograph of the holder’s face and two fingerprints. It is a solution to the problem of illegal immigration that allows all foreigners, including immigrants from third countries, to obtain a permanent permit to work in Switzerland.