Immigration Categories

A brief description of corporate immigration categories by assignment type follows. The appropriate immigration category or status for your employees will depend on their specific details and on your company. The most common category for corporate transfers in our experience is the L permit. For details on non-typical categories not listed below (investors, special programs), please contact your representative. For information on European Union nationals, please refer to the Bilateral Agreements section.

  • B long term: Swiss work and residence permit
  • L short term (≤364 days): Swiss work and residence permit
  • L short term (≤ four months of employment): Swiss work permit
  • L short term (120 days within a twelve month period): Swiss work permit

Typical Process Overview

The following process overview is applicable for an L work and residence permit for less than 365 days. Approximate overall processing time from the time the first step is submitted to the time the employee is legal to work in Switzerland is six (6) to ten (10) weeks. However, note that lead time for document gathering at the start of the process should be factored in, as should processing time for completion of post arrival formalities. Average processing time for each individual step is noted below.

Step One: Work Permit Application
Processing Time:
Three (3) to six (6) weeks

A pre-approval application for work authorisation from the relevant Cantonal Labor Authorities is filed. Final approval for the work authorisation is issued by the Federal Migration Office in Bern.

Step Two: Long Stay Visa Approval and Collection
Processing Time: One (1) to three (3) weeks

Once we have received the work permit approval from both the Cantonal Labor Authorities and Federal Migration Office, we must wait to receive confirmation from the Cantonal Migration Office that the positive decision has been communicated to the relevant Swiss diplomatic post overseas. Once this confirmation arrives, the employee may collect the Swiss entry visa in his/her home country or country of residence. If permitted, and depending on the country of application, we can arrange for the visa to be collected on the employee’s behalf.

Step Three: Local Registration
Processing Time: Approximately two (2) to three (3) weeks

Within fourteen (14) days of arrival in Switzerland, the employee must register with the relevant Swiss authority to obtain the final Swiss work and residence permit. The registration step is not required for assignments up to four (4) months or 120 days within a twelve (12) month period.

Typical Documents Obtained

Following the L permit process described above will result in the obtention of the following immigration documents. Typical validity is noted next to each document name. For details on the extension process, please see the next section, Extension.

  • L Permit: Twelve (12) months; can be extended in some cases up to a maximum stay of twenty-four (24) months

Extension

Extension of L permits is generally possible up to a maximum stay of twenty-four (24) months. B permits may be extended for one (1) or two (2) years, depending on the initial decisions made by the relevant Cantonal Labor Authorities and the applicant’s personal situation. Extension processes take three (3) to eight (8) weeks’ time; please allow two (2) weeks’ lead time for document gathering. Extension may not be possible depending on the initial decision made by the Cantonal Labor Authorities.

Permanent Residence may be available for some applicants, holders of B permits, who have been in Switzerland for between five (5) and ten (10) years (depending on nationality).

Deregistration

To ensure that assignees leave Switzerland after the expiration of their permission to stay and monitor the number of foreign workers in the country, the government of Switzerland requires holders of Swiss residence permits valid for longer than four (4) months to notify the relevant migration office of their departure from Switzerland no later than fourteen (14) days before their effective departure date. Depending on the place of residence in Switzerland, the departure notification may be submitted by mail, or a personal appearance may be required. A written confirmation of departure is usually issued by the relevant migration office. This may be useful for completing administrative formalities linked to the departure from Switzerland. The foreigner should normally leave Switzerland with the original permit; the relevant migration office may in very rare situations ask the applicant to return original permit before leaving Switzerland.

Holders of a Swiss residence permit valid for four (4) months or less do not need to notify the relevant migration office of their departure from Switzerland.

Dependents

Dependent immigration status approval depends on the immigration status of the principal applicant. Where the principal applicant is in Switzerland on a work permit for an intra-company transfer, the following rules apply for dependents:

  • Minimum age (spouses):  Eighteen (18) years.
  • Maximum age (children): Eighteen (18) years.
  • Unmarried partners: Yes, in very particular situations, if certain conditions are met.
  • Same sex partners: Yes, in very particular situations, if certain conditions are met.
  • Non-traditional dependents (e.g. parents): Yes, in very particular situations, if certain conditions are met.
  • Work authorization granted?
    • Spouses of L permit holder may work in Switzerland, but the request for a work authorization is subject to decision (conditions: personal qualifications and respect of work conditions).
    • Spouses of B permit holder may work in Switzerland without securing a separate work authorization (self-employment, however, may require a separate work authorization depending on the principal applicant’s exact immigration status).

Application Materials

Application materials vary depending on the immigration category being applied for and on the specifics of the case. We will advise you in detail regarding your specific case; however, general application materials for a work permit under an intra-company transfer are noted below.

  • A variety of personal and corporate documents will be needed to support the application.
  • Such documents include a current resume (C.V.), diploma, assignment letter/employment contract, birth and marriage certificates, and a description of the assignment in Switzerland.
  • All documentation must be submitted in English, German, Italian or French (some cantonal authorities may require a translation in the language of the concerned region).

Business Visitors

  • Name of visa granted: Schengen type C
  • Duration of stay: Ninety (90) days over any one-hundred eighty (180) day period
  • General activities permitted: “business only”, generally defined as attending business meetings, seminars and theoretical classroom training. If you are unsure whether your assignment may be considered business or not, please contact your representative

Change of Status

It is possible for some nationalities to convert from visitor/business to employment status without leaving Switzerland, but most will be required to enter on the appropriate work visa.

Salary and Payroll

Salary and payroll requirements vary depending on the immigration category and on the specifics of the case. In Switzerland, there are minimum salary requirements in place for certain types of authorizations. Additionally, payroll location will affect the immigration process. Please contact your representative for more details for your specific situation.

Qualifications

Qualification requirements will vary from case to case and will depend on the immigration category under which the application is made. However, in general, the immigration authorities do expect to see university-level qualifications. In some situations, a strong case may be made for applicants without a degree provided their level of experience and industry specific qualification is high. Please contact your representative for more details.

Red Flags

In our experience, the following points are important to note at the start of the process. If any of the below situations apply to you, contact your representative immediately for further detailed advice.

  • Absence of degree.
  • Absence of relevant experience.
  • Insufficient compensation.
  • Each regional canton has immigration authority and therefore processes and timing may differ depending on the canton.
  • The Swiss government has a quota system. Different quotas exist for L and B permits for non EU nationals as well as separate quotas for EU 2013 entrant (Croatia) and for all EU detached workers for more than 120 days within a twelve (12) month period assignment in Switzerland (no Swiss employment contract). When quotas are reached, no more applications will usually be approved until the new quotas are announced for the following year or quarter. In some situations, the relevant migration authorities may decide to initially issue an L short term permit instead of a B long term permit.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

The government of Switzerland takes immigration non-compliance very seriously. Penalties for non-compliance may include fines, deportation, and imprisonment.

Employee Penalties:

Anyone who is not compliant with Switzerland territory’s entry requirements, who is living illegally in Switzerland or who works or changes employer without authorization shall be liable on conviction to a monetary penalty  or to a custodial sentence of up to a year. If the offence is committed through negligence, the penalty is a fine.

Employer Penalties:

Anyone who as an employer willfully employs foreign nationals who are not entitled to work in Switzerland, or anyone who obtains a cross-border service in Switzerland for which the service provider has no permit, shall be liable on conviction to a monetary penalty or to a custodial sentence of up to one year. In serious cases, the penalty is a custodial sentence of up to three years or a monetary penalty. The custodial sentence must be combined with a monetary penalty.

For more details, please contact your representative.

Bilateral Agreements

  • European Union: Switzerland is not part of the European Union (EU); however, it has several bilateral and multilateral agreements with EU and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) member states, as follows:
    • Bilateral Agreements on the free movement of persons are in full force for the following countries:
      • EU27: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Slovak Republic, Romania, and Bulgaria.
      • EFTA: Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway

However, these nationals are obliged to declare gainful activity to the relevant Migration Office and to register with this office in order to be issued with a Swiss work and residence permit.

  • On 1 July 2013, Croatia joined the European Union. Extension of the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons to Croatia was negotiated in a new Protocol III. The Protocol III came into force on 1 January 2017. From this date onwards, Croatian nationals benefit from the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons. Croatian nationals are entitled to work in Switzerland under transitional provisions (priority to Swiss local labour market, control of work conditions and quotas).
  • Schengen: Switzerland is a member State of the Schengen agreement. Short term (type C) visas and residence permits for Switzerland will allow travel in the rest of the Schengen zone (if the Schengen visa has not been limited to a particular Schengen country).