Immigration Fast Facts – Switzerland

At Emigra Worldwide, we know that even experienced expats can be caught off-guard when immigrating to a new country. With that in mind, here are some aspects of immigration that can trip up – or thrill! – first-time travelers to Switzerland.

A Federal Country

Federalism, which was introduced in Switzerland in 1848, makes it possible to enjoy diversity within a single country. For Switzerland, with its four national languages and its highly diverse geographical landscapes, federalism makes an important contribution to social cohesion and impacts the countries attitude to immigration matters. It should be noted that 25% of the Swiss population is foreign with Geneva being the second city in the world (after New York) with the most diversity of nationalities.

Jurisdiction control

Switzerland is a small country, but the 26 cants (and semi cantons) are considered as independent jurisdictions with their own immigration procedures and requirements. This adds complexity to the process and depending on the jurisdiction, the application for a work or residence permit is either submitted to a cantonal office or to a local office (city or village). This means that the requirements and application process for the same type of permit (for example a B permit for EU/EFTA citizen) will not be the same in every canton. There may also be different language requirements which will impact the language required for supporting documentation on permit applications.

Complexities for Non-EU v. EU Nationals

Switzerland has a dual immigration admission procedure for foreigners: 1) the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons 2) the federal law on foreigners. What this means is that admission to the Swiss labour market is straightforward for EU/EFTA citizens holding a local Swiss contract. However, non-EU citizens are subject to long processing times and formal decisions from both the cantonal and the federal authorities.

Further to this, for applications for employees under a local Swiss employment contract, the competent authorities for an application for an EU/EFTA citizen will be the authorities responsible for the place of residence. Whereas, the competent authorities for an application for a non-EU citizen, will be the authorities responsible for the place of work (where the Swiss employer is based).

Swiss complexities

Switzerland also has a work permit quotas system applying to mainly Non-EU nationals. This should be taken into consideration when planning an assignment. The quota may impact the ability to obtain a permit as the annual quota units may not be sufficient to cover all the Swiss-based companies’ need. Therefore, it is advised to apply for a non-EU employee as early as possible in in the year.