Work Visa -Switzerland
Background of the topic
A visa would be generally referred to as permit to enter, transit or stay in a country of which the visa holder does not have the citizenship or right to stay based on other type of permanent residence permit. A visa is usually issued for a limited period and must be in place before entering the country of destination.
A visa covers one country or a group of countries such as for example the EU, EFTA states respectively the Schengen states (European Union currently without Ireland, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus but includes Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Norway, Island, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican) . The Schengen generally provides free movement of citizens within the Schengen countries, harmonisation of the conditions for entering a country and rules on short stay visas (up to 90 days).
With this background, this article handles the concept of work visa (=work permit) in Switzerland, means inbound work activities. Switzerland does have 26 political subregions (=cantons), each with own migration authorities. Although the regulations are based on federal law, mainly on the Act on Foreigners, there might be a slight difference in the cantonal handling procedure for migration issues.
Business trip to Switzerland
For business trips up to 8 days per calendar year, foreigners (EU/EUFTA and third country nationals) can work in Switzerland without a work permit or the notification procedure as described hereafter. This exemption only applies if the business trip was initially not planned for more than the 8 days. For EU/EFTA-employers the 8 days do count on personal and company level, while for non-EU/EFTA employers the 8 days are counted on personal level only. Exemptions do apply in certain industries such as construction, cleaning, personal services, etc., here a notification or work permit is required from the first day in any case.
EU/EFTA nationals do have the legion right to obtain a Swiss work permit, when employed by as Swiss domiciled employer. To avoid abuse of migration law, the Swiss migration authorities do verify the economical substance of the employer (e.g. own space, sustainable gainful activity).
For EU/EFTA nationals on assignments for up to a maximum of 90 working days per calendar year (no employment with a Swiss domiciled company), the notification procedure can be applied. With the 90 days notification procedure, permit to work in Switzerland can be granted by online notification to the Swiss labour market authorities (cantonal authority is responsible). No extensive documentation and formal application procedure are required for this procedure. Nevertheless, labour law regulations and minimum salary or market comparable salary must be paid. A notification must be made 8 days prior to the first day of assignment. The notification is always limited to the project or place of work.
Also, for non-EU/EFTA nationals with a valid work permit in an EU/EFTA country for more than 12 months, the EU/EFTA rules do generally apply (e.g. 90 days notification procedure is applicable).
Business travels up to 8 calendar days per company and employee are not subject to the registration duties.
Not subject to registration duties are for example client meetings and contract negotiations whereas on the job-trainings, internships and project related work is subject to such duties.
Assignments of more than 90 working days per calendar year are not falling under the free movement agreement, hence the same rules as for non-EU/EFTA nationals do apply (see hereafter).
Since January 1st, 2021 UK – nationals are considered as non-EU/EFTA nationals and respective rules do apply. EU/EFTA rules may remain applicable if the project/work situation was already existing before this date
Non EU/EFTA Nationals
Non-EU/EFTA nationals including UK nationals since January 1st, 2021 are subject to a work permit approval process when hired locally. Employers must proof that no adequate employee has been found on the Swiss and EU/EFTA job market. Usually job advertainments shall be published on a common job portal for about 3 months.
Assignments to Switzerland of Non-EU/EFTA nationals and EU/EFTA/UK nationals (for assignments of more than 90 days per calendar year) do require a formal work permit. Work permits are usually granted for 4 months/120 days up to 24 months. The work permit is granted for a specific project or work site and is usually restricted to this specific location or canton.
Both the local employment as the assignment of respective nationals does require compliance with Swiss market comparable salary, requires economical relevancy and is granted for employees with excellent professional experience and/or executive personal.
Exemptions may apply for intra-group transfers.
The work permit is granted for a specific project by the respective canton. Change of the project is subject to a full re-application and will not be approved by the cantonal authorities in most of the cases. Assignments of executive personal may be structured in a way that various job sites can be covered if a local entity of the group is in place (management transfer rules).
Work permits are subject to quotas allocated to the cantons on quarterly basis. If one of the general criteria for obtaining a work permit is not met (i.e. professional experience, salary level, economical relevance) and/or if the quota for a certain type of permit is fully used, the cantonal authority can refuse to grant a work permit for a specific worker.
Swiss work permit overview
120 days permit
4-month permit/ 120 consecutive days
This overview does not include business travelling up 8 days and the 90 days notification procedure because these are not considered as work permits.
Action steps and conclusion
When planning international assignments, the employers must consider the following factors:
These considerations do apply for international assignments in general. Nevertheless, to protect domestic markets and local labour market countries have implemented national regulations for cross-border workers, assigned workers, and worker on foreign country employment contracts. Although the EU/EFTA free movement agreement, each host country immigration rules must be verified prior to the assignment.
Non-compliance can be subject to penalties and/or ban from future work in a respective country.
Ahead planning of the assignments is key to successful assignments of workers.