Switzerland has restricted quotas for foreign workers, and everyone will need authorization to legally work in Switzerland. Here’s everything you need to know about getting a work visa for Switzerland.
To work in Switzerland, different conditions apply for citizens who are from a country in the European Union or European Free Trade Association (EFTA) (EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland), than for citizens who are third-country nationals (non-EU/EFTA citizens).
However, obtaining a Swiss work permit is increasingly becoming more difficult. In 2015, against the backdrop of growing anti-immigration sentiment, the Swiss government reduced the number of work permits available for non-EU nationals and for assignees from EU/EFTA countries. The non-EU/EFTA quotas for short-term work permits (L permits) and for long-term work permits (B permits) were each reduced by 1,000, as was quota for short-term permits for EU/EFTA assignees. It is also expected that authorities will further increase the frequency and number of on-site labor inspections, meaning foreign employees should keep a file on site.
The immigration authorities have also tightened application practices, such as closer scrutiny of applications, increased salary requirements, and stricter extension rules. These measures made obtaining work permits more difficult. Getting a Swiss work permit is still possible for those that meet the conditions or work in a shortage industry. Switzerland in fact has one of the highest immigration rates in Europe; about one-fifth of the population is foreign.
The annual quota is divided and released on a quarterly basis and expected to be full by the middle to end of each quarter, which means applications can be delayed until the quotas for the next quarter are released. To avoid rejections, submit a work permit application far in advance.
Who can get a work permit?
EU/EFTA citizens can freely enter Switzerland but must apply for work authorization. Read more in our guide for EU/EFTA nationals moving to Switzerland. The Swiss government also applies quotas to newer EU members: Romania and Bulgaria. The rest of this guide applies to non-EU/EFTA citizens only.
Non-EU/EFTA citizens will need to get a special residence permit with authorization to work in Switzerland. This applies whether the employment contract is with a Swiss or a foreign company and whether the work is paid or unpaid. Whether or not you will be granted authorization to work usually depends on existing work quotas, your educational level, and work experience, and that no EU/EFTA candidate is available for the position.
You have to have authority to work before you enter the country; you cannot enter Switzerland as a tourist, a visitor or on a business trip, and then take on work. If you want to work, you have to leave Switzerland and then apply from your home country.
Once you find work, the employer applies for a work visa on your behalf while you get an entry visa. You will get your residence and work permit when you arrive in Switzerland. This permit allows you to live – and work – in Switzerland.
Exceptions to this rule are students and relatives of holders of settlement permits. They may work without a permit so long as they inform the relevant authorities. For more information, see our guides on studying in Switzerland or moving to Switzerland to join a partner or relative.
Coming to Switzerland to work as an employee
First, you need to find a job; see our guides on how to find a job in Switzerland and tips for resumes and interviews in Switzerland. Once you have a job, your employer applies to the local cantonal employment service, who reviews and refers the application to the Federal Office for Migration (FOM). When considering your application, the FOM takes factors such as language skills, age, and ability to integrate into account.
Approval often hinges on the following:
- you are a manager, specialist, or an otherwise qualified worker, that is, you hold a university degree, have specific expertise, and several years of professional experience
- the established quotas allow it
- there is no Swiss or EU/EFTA (European Free Trade Association) person suitable for the position
Applying for a Swiss work permit
Application forms and requirements vary from canton to canton (find the contact details of all the Swiss cantonal authorities to ask more). In general, you must submit the following:
- a photocopy of your passport/travel ID data page
- copies of job advertisements (press or online)
- evidence of other efforts to get work
- your CV
- copies of qualifications, such as certificates or diplomas, which should be in German, French, Italian, or English (translated by an official translator if necessary)
- details about the university/place of higher education, such as dates, subjects, and grades
Meanwhile, you should apply to the Swiss embassy or consulate in your home country for a visa to enter Switzerland or stay long-term (if you need one). Find out which entry visa you need in our complete guide to Swiss visas and permits.
The FOM contacts you, your employer, and the canton with their decision and in the case of approval. The cantonal office informs the Swiss embassy or consulate to issue your visa. When you arrive in Switzerland, you then have 14 days to register with the Residents’ Registry Office through the local cantonal migration offices and get your residence permit. Once you have this, you can start work.
Types of Swiss resident and work permits
You may be issued with one of the following residence and work permits:
- Permit L – is a short-term residence permit that allows you to stay in Switzerland for up to one year. The L permit is tied to the terms of the employment contract and may be extended in exceptional cases for a further year but no more if you continue to work for the same employer.
- Permit B – is an initial or temporary residence permit that is valid for one year but can be extended annually, as long as there are no grounds for it not to be reissued, such as being a recipient of welfare benefits. These permits are issued on a quota basis and are tied to the same employer. The permits often specify that you live in the canton that issued the permit and cannot move out of that canton.
- Permit C – is a settlement permit for those who have been living for 10 continuous years in Switzerland; US and Canadian citizens only have to live for five continuous years to apply for a settlement permit. For more information, see our guide to Swiss citizenship.
Work in Switzerland as a self-employed person
Usually, you can only work in Switzerland in a self-employment capacity if you hold a settlement permit. This means you need to have already lived in Switzerland for five years or in some cases, 10 years. For more information, see Swiss citizenship. This rule does not apply if you are married to a Swiss citizen or can prove that your business or work will create jobs in Switzerland or serve some other economic interest.
Work in Switzerland as an au pair
You can come and work as an au pair in Switzerland if you are between 18 and 25 years old and get a placement through an au pair agency. The agency must have a license from the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).
International trainee agreements
Switzerland has trainee agreements with a number of countries that allow young professionals to work in Switzerland for up to 18 months. These permits are available to citizens of: Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Philippines, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Ukraine, and the US.
To qualify, you must:
- be between 18 and 35 years of age (20–30 if you’re from Australia, or 18–30 if you’re from New Zealand or Russia)
- have completed either vocational training or hold a related degree
Canadians can come to Switzerland as part of their bachelor’s degree. They must prove their enrolment at a university or college. Japanese applicants must be graduates. The permit is for a maximum of 18 months.
If you come to Switzerland on this basis, it’s up to you to find work. Your job must relate to your academic training. You cannot work part-time or as a freelancer.
Once you find a position, get at least three copies of the employment contract from the employer so you can apply for a residence permit and temporary work permit using this application form. You also need copies of your degree or diploma, CV, and passport. These documents should be in German, French, or English. Apply to the authority in your home country; they forward it to the Swiss Federal Office for Migration (FOM) for approval. Click here for more details on this procedure plus where to send your application in your home country.
If the permit is granted, Bulgarian, Romanian, Japanese, Monegasque, and New Zealanders receive a Zusicherung der Aufenthaltsbewilligung (pre-authorization for a residency permit approved by the FOM).
Argentinians, Australians, Canadians, Filipinos, Russians, South Africans, Ukrainians, and Americans need a visa to stay in Switzerland for more than 90 days. They receive an Ermächtigung zur Visumerteilung (authorization for the issuance of a visa from the FOM). They must then apply for a visa at the Swiss embassy. Read more information in our complete guide to Swiss visas and permits.
Trainees must register with the local Residents’ Registry office within 14 days of entering Switzerland.
For more information
Federal Office for Migration (FOM): the Swiss government’s official site for information on all aspects of immigration to Switzerland.
+41 58 465 11 11 | Monday to Friday: 9–11am and 2–4pm.
Cantonal authorities: Each canton has its own cantonal immigration and labor market authorities that issue permits. They provide information on the application procedures. Find the contact details of your specific Swiss canton for information. Click here for the addresses of all the cantonal authorities, for online access via their websites and for the details of the communal authorities.