Swiss immigration regulations distinguish between entry visas and work and residence permits. The system also makes clear distinctions between EU/EFTA and other nationals.
Immigrating to Switzerland
Switzerland makes a clear distinction between visas, which allow applicants to either enter the country (usually for the purposes of business or tourism), and work and residence permits, which allow applicants to work and/or reside in Switzerland.
Multiple authorities, both in Switzerland and overseas, are involved in the Swiss work/residence permit application process. Each Swiss canton has a certain amount of autonomy over immigration into its canton.
What permits are required to work in Switzerland?
All non-Swiss nationals must obtain some form of immigration permission to work in Switzerland. This means a work authorisation, work permit, or work and residence permit is required.
Swiss immigration law is based on clear distinctions between non-European Union (EU)/European Free Trade Association (EFTA) nationals, and EU/EFTA nationals.
Book a Guidance Call
Get expert knowledge and solutions to answer all questions related to researching, relocating and residing in Switzerland.
Non-EU/EFTA nationals working in Switzerland
Work and/or residence permit applications for non-EU / EFTA nationals are generally subject to quotas (depending on the length of the assignment). For non-EU/EFTA nationals the Swiss immigration process is fairly complex and decentralised.
Registering for a work permit
A work permit, a visa and a residence permit are generally required in Switzerland.
A complete work and residence permit application together with justifying documents and arguments must be lodged with the appropriate cantonal immigration authority.
Once this application is approved, a visa approval is issued*, which enables the applicant to collect a visa at the Swiss diplomatic post in the applicant's home country or other country of legal residence.
Upon entry to Switzerland, the applicant has to register with the cantonal immigration authorities to be issued with the final Swiss work and residence permit**.
Processing times for work and residence permit registration vary depending on the canton, but between eight and twelve weeks is generally the average. Swiss entry visas are normally issued within eight working days.
*exceptions apply for nationals of a limited number of countries, who do not need to collect an entry visa upon approval of the work permit application.
**except for short-term assignments up to four months / 120 days.
EU / EFTA nationals working in Switzerland
Although not a member of the EU, Switzerland has made several agreements which permit Swiss nationals to enjoy many privileges of the EU, and which also permit EU/EFTA nationals to enjoy privileged status in Switzerland.
Bilateral agreements on the free movement of people are in full force for the following countries:
Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, Cyprus, Malta (EU countries); and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway (EFTA countries).
Nationals of these countries still need to apply for Swiss work and residence permits, but the review and issuing process is fairly straightforward.
In addition, assignments for expatriated employees are generally subject to a prior work authorisation and to quota limits (depending on the length of the assignment).