The Swiss B permit or “autorisation de séjour” is a multi-faceted residency and work permit. Usually granted to new entrants, the B permit is delivered for different types of applications such as: European and non-European workers, family reunification applicants, international students enrolled in higher academic institutions and retirees over 55 demonstrating sufficient funds to sustain themselves in Switzerland.
Applying for a B permit in Switzerland requires dealing first with the cantonal authorities, the OCPM in Geneva or, for example, the Service de la Population (SPOP) in Lausanne. Each canton has its own authority. Once the cantonal authorities have assessed and approved the application, the case is examined by the SEM in Bern on the federal level. The process can be sometimes quite lengthy and the application procedure depends mostly on whether you are a European citizen or not.
If you are a European citizen from a country member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), the process is relatively straightford if you are applying for a work permit. You are allowed to come to Switzerland and look for a job for a period of 3 months without holding a permit. However, you must declare your arrival to authorities within 14 days. If the contract goes for less than a year, you will receive a L permit (short-term). If it goes over a year or has an indefinite term, you will receive a B permit, requiring to be renewed regularly.
If you are a non-European citizen seeking a work permit, things are more complex as explained in our article “Obtaining a work permit for non-European citizens”. You must first find a job from your country of residence and secure a position before coming to Switzerland. Your employer must apply for your permit on your behalf and you must wait until the application has been approved before being able to travel to Switzerland and start working. The process can take up to 4 months.
Family reunification applicants consist of a large category of B permit applications in Switzerland. According to Swiss law, spouses and children of a Swiss citizen or a permit C holder have the right to obtain a B permit to be able to live reunited as a family as long as the family will be living at the same address. Children under the age of 12 automatically obtain a C permit.
Family members of a B permit holder can also apply for a family reunification procedure but under certain conditions. First, the housing arrangement in Switzerland must be spacious enough to host the applicants, the family must be living under the same roof and the main B permit holder must not be relying on social support (Hospice general) and be financially independent.
Family reunification can be requested within 5 years from the moment the main applicant arrives in Switzerland. For children above the age of 12, it should be requested within 12 months of arrival. A long-term visa must be sometimes requested to the Swiss consulate of the applicant’s country of residence allowing the family members to enter Switzerland and receive the B permit. After 5 years of residency in Switzerland holding a B permit, the fast-tracked C permit can be in some cases requested, if the applicant fulfills the different conditions. After 10 years of residency in Switzerland, a permit C holder is allowed to apply for Swiss citizenship if the requirements are met.
To summarize, the B permit usually consists of the first permit new entrants receive when settling in Switzerland. Exceptions apply to children under the age of 12 and academic professors and lecturers who directly receive a C permit.