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Known for its chocolate, altitude-defying mountains, and serene lakes, Switzerland is an increasingly attractive spot for companies looking to expand their business. If your company shares this ambition, you'll need to learn the basics of obtaining work permits and visas in Switzerland for your employees.
Below is a complete review of Switzerland's visa requirements, permit options, and application steps so you can help your employees settle in Switzerland.
Switzerland work permit types
Before your employee makes the move to Switzerland, you need to ensure that they're 100% compliant with all the requirements for living in the country. Switzerland has strict immigration laws that restrict access for foreign nationals who don't meet these requirements. Special permits are given to foreign nationals that enable them to work and live inside Switzerland's boundaries.
If your employee is from one of the countries that participate in the Schengen agreement, they won't need a permit to enter Switzerland. Nationals of these countries are granted 90 days in a 180-day period to travel within Switzerland and the other Schengen countries. Individuals from EU/EEA countries have free access to travel within Switzerland — and can work in the country for up to 90 days per calendar year — without additional documents or paperwork.
Unfortunately, Switzerland does not offer the EU Blue Card as a way to gain legal employment status. Instead, your employee will need a Switzerland work permit to live and work in the country.
Switzerland has become more restrictive about who is awarded a work permit due to the quotas placed on each type for non-EU/EFTA nationals. Therefore, even if your employee meets all the necessary restrictions and regulations, there is still a possibility that they won't receive a permit if the quota for the permit they need has already been met.
Switzerland has tightened other restrictions as well, like salary requirements and the rules surrounding permit extensions. Furthermore, to be considered for a permit, your employee must demonstrate a certain level of proficiency or a commitment to learning the language of the region they plan to move to (German, French, or Italian).
To ensure full compliance with the local regulations, your employee will need to apply for one of the following permits.
Citizens and permanent residents of France, Germany, and Italy should look first at Permit G as a Switzerland work permit. This permit is best for people who work in Switzerland but commute from the border region in a neighboring country.
The employee must have lived at their residence in the neighboring country for at least six months, and they must have permanent residence in that country. Moreover, they're considered eligible for Permit G as long as they plan to return to their main residence at least once per week.
This permit is generally granted for one year and is tied to the employee's specific job. This means that they'll need permission from the relevant cantonal authority if they want to take on a different position in the company.
Permit L is ideal for EU/EFTA nationals looking to work and/or live in Switzerland for three months to one year. This permit allows short-term stays in the country as long as they have a specific purpose for their visit.
Generally, employees may only use the Permit L for up to one year. Applications for Permit L must show an employment contract with a duration between three and 12 months. The permit is valid for the length of the employment contract.
If they meet certain requirements, citizens of EU/EFTA states can also apply for Permit L to search for a job in Switzerland.
Employees from the EU/EFTA region should apply for Permit B to live and work in Switzerland if they're looking to stay in the country longer than one year for a specific purpose. The employee must have a contract lasting for at least 12 months when they first apply but do not need to be employed continuously throughout the permit's duration.
The permit is valid for up to five years and can be renewed for an additional five years. If the permit holder has been unemployed for 12 consecutive months when they first renew the permit, it will only be valid for an additional year.
This permit is considered an initial residence permit because if the employee lives in Switzerland with Permit B for 10 consecutive years, they are eligible for permanent residence with Permit C.
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Switzerland work permit and visa requirements
The various types of work permits require documents and forms that must be gathered before your employee relocates. Usually, the documents help to establish the claims made on an application. For example, your employee will need to gather proof of their identity, financial means, and accommodation.
This part of the application process is crucial for securing legal immigration work status. Any mistakes made in the application or submitted documents are grounds for denial. If your employee already lives in Switzerland, they could be forced to leave the country and find residence elsewhere.
Your company will be held liable if you're employing a worker without all the appropriate legal forms and documents. You could face severe penalties and fines if your company hires illegal workers in Switzerland — intentionally or not.
This is why it's often safer and more efficient to partner with a global employment platform, like Skuad, which can take care of the necessary paperwork for you. Skuad has a thorough understanding of all the relevant Swiss laws and regulations and can help you obtain Switzerland work permits for your employees, both legally and as quickly as possible.
How to apply for Switzerland work permits and visas
The first step is to apply for a work permit at a local Swiss canton. A canton is an administrative division of Switzerland and is similar in concept to a US state or German Bundesland. Each canton manages its own education, social welfare, direct taxation, healthcare, and law enforcement. You can apply for an employee's work permit in a regional office in the employee's desired canton of residence.
If your employee is a citizen or permanent resident of an EU/EFTA country, they'll need to apply for a B, L, or G permit with the appropriate canton. The Canton of Zürich, for example, allows applications through their website. If the employee is from a non-EU/EFTA country, a representative from your company must apply for their work permit.
For this process, you need to prove to the authorities that you adequately advertised the position to Swiss and other EU/EFTA nationals and were not able to find anyone suitable for the job. Switzerland prioritizes its own workforce over foreign nationals for open job positions. If your company fails to prove you have properly advertised the open position to local workers, you won't be able to get a work permit for the foreign employee.
Along with this documentation, you'll need to provide the following documents, which are common to most work permit applications:
- The employee's CV
- Any diplomas the employee has earned
- The employee's professional references
- The employment contract, including the job description and salary
- Information about the company
The cantonal migration authority will screen the application and send it to the Federal Office for Migration, which will then notify the canton, employer, and employee of the official decision.
It will take a few weeks or months to receive the results. When the permit is granted, you as the employer must pay the relevant fees. The cantonal authority will send the approval to the appropriate Swiss authority abroad (for example, in your employee's home country). The employee can pick up their visa there once it's ready and can use it to enter Switzerland with permission to legally live and work in the country.
The work permit application process in Switzerland can be complicated, even for those familiar with Swiss bureaucracy. Your company should be involved with each step of applying for your employees' work permits as any mistakes — intentional or not — will cause a delay and could result in additional fees for reapplying.
Application processing time
The process for 100% legal global expansion can take a significant amount of time. It can take anywhere from four to six weeks to receive approval. The permit can be renewed, but ideally no later than two weeks before it expires. Waiting longer than this will risk your employee falling out of legal compliance, putting additional liabilities on your company. Expect to pay around CHF 160 for the permit process.
The actual permit process takes much longer to process. Applicants will need to wait anywhere from eight to 10 weeks to receive approval. The permit costs around CHF 88, but you'll have to pay considerably more if you need to fast-track the permit process. You could end up paying a premium for a quick approval.
Planning to hire or work in Switzerland? Here’s how Skuad can help
It's possible to employ a foreign national in Switzerland as long as you have the right documents and forms in place. Just note that the country restricts the number of foreign nationals allowed to take local jobs.
The time it will take to learn all the applicable Swiss laws can drain your company's time and resources. Legal knowledge is necessary to navigate the application process, but it takes significant effort to achieve and maintain full compliance with all the local regulations.
Instead of committing to figuring it all out on your own, simplify the process by working with a global payroll provider. Skuad can help you through the entire process of applying for your employees' work permits in Switzerland from start to finish. We have a team of local law experts who manage the permit application process to ensure 100% compliance.
Whether you’re moving team members to manage your projects or want to empower your employees to work from wherever they’d like, check out how we’re making mobility possible. Hire talent in Switzerland and beyond and build your globally-distributed teams easily with Skuad.
1. Can a US citizen work in Switzerland?
US citizens can work in Switzerland after obtaining a work permit.
2. How long does it take to get a work permit in Switzerland?
It can take anywhere from four to six weeks for a work permit to be processed in Switzerland.
3. How much is a work permit in Switzerland?
A work permit in Switzerland is approximately CHF 160, or US$175. The exact cost may differ depending on the Swiss canton in which you're applying.
4. Can foreigners work in Switzerland?
Yes, foreigners are allowed to work in Switzerland as long as they have the right documents and paperwork. Citizens of the EU/EFTA states can work in Switzerland for up to 90 days per calendar year without a visa or permit. Those who wish to stay longer and citizens of other countries will need a permit to work in Switzerland.
5. Is it difficult to get a work permit in Switzerland?
Although not impossible, it can be difficult to get a work permit in Switzerland. Aside from the application process requiring considerable documentation, the country has established quotas for each type of permit to limit the number of foreigners taking local jobs. Once the quotas are filled, no other applicants can be considered.