If you are a European citizen from a member country of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), the process is relatively straightforward. You are allowed to come to Switzerland and look for a job for a period of 3 months without holding an authorization. However, you must declare your arrival to authorities within 14 days. If your work contract is temporary and for less than a year, you will be granted a L permit (short-term). If it goes over a year or has an indefinite term, you will be granted a B permit, 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.
It is your employer who applies for your permit, after having proved that no one else on the European and Swiss job market matched the advertised position (art. 21 LEI). You must wait until the application has been approved before being able to travel to Switzerland to start working. The process can take up to 6 months. Your application is evaluated by the SMOE (Service de la main d’oeuvre étrangère) in Geneva or Service de l’Emploi in Vaud before being sent to the SEM in Bern for a final decision.
In Geneva, a work permit for an independent is assessed by the OCPM, while in Vaud it is the “Contrôle de l’habitant” of each commune who assesses the application and delivers the permit. In Vaud, the applicant must present himself in person. A business plan and proof that business is registered in the canton are required.
For non-EU citizens, obtaining a B permit for an independent activity can be challenging. The business must have a strong economic interest for Switzerland and the applicant must prove that is presence is required on a long-term basis to operate the business. Proof of sufficient financial means will be required as well as a solid business plan showing that the business will be financially sustainable (art. 19 LEI).
Family reunification forms a large category of B permit holders in Switzerland. Spouses and children of a Swiss citizen or a C permit holder have the right to obtain a B permit to be able to live reunited as long as the family will be living at the same address (art. 42 and 43 LEI). Children under the age of 12 automatically obtain a C permit (art. 42 al. 4 LEI).
Spouses and family members of a B permit holder can also apply for a family reunification procedure but under certain conditions. First, the housing arrangement must be spacious enough to house 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 général”) and be financially independent (art. 44 LEI).
Family reunification procedure
Family reunification can be requested within 5 years from the moment the main applicant arrives in Switzerland or from the birth of the child. For children above the age of 12, it should be requested within 12 months of arrival (art. 47 LEI). A long-term visa must be sometimes requested at the Swiss consulate of the applicant’s country of residence allowing the family members to enter Switzerland and wait for the permit to be prepared. From 2019, the law requires all B permit holders to be able to speak the language of their canton (A1 level or higher depending on the canton) when renewing their permit (art. 58a al. 3). The language certificate will have to be provided as part of the renewal documents.
Students must obtain a temporary B permit in order to follow a university degree or postgraduate training (art. 27 LEI). The enrolment confirmation will be required, the proof that they have sufficient funds to cover their costs and medical insurance during their studies or a letter from a guarantor and the copy of their rental lease or the confirmation letter of the sub-letter. Students must also prove that they have the academic level required for the program. Usually, students must be less than 30 years old.
Remaining after studies
The non-EU student who has terminated his programme at a Swiss recognized university has the opportunity to search for a qualified position matching his studies in Switzerland during a period of six months without having to request a new permit. During that period, the future employer will have the right to hire this non-EU student without having to go through the local job priority process (Directives LEI 2019).
Retire in Switzerland
Retirees over the age of 55 can apply for a B residency permit under certain conditions (art. 28 LEI). They must have ceased all working activities and hold sufficient funds to cover their costs and medical insurance in Switzerland. Retirees must be able to demonstrate strong ties with Switzerland and prove that they have spent previous time in the country such as repeated holidays or family visits before being able to settle in the country.