How does an EU/EFTA citizen obtain a residence permit/work permit for Switzerland?

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Living and working in Switzerland is still highly attractive to foreigners. In order to achieve this goal, foreigners must overcome many official hurdles. Switzerland has a tightly knit system that regulates and controls the access of foreign nationals to Switzerland. When processing applications from abroad, in Switzerland the first major step is to distinguish between citizens from EU/EFTA countries and citizens form non-EU/EFTA

countries. In the following, the rules for citizens from an EU/EFTA country are described in detail. We have presented the rules for citizens from non-EU/EFTA countries in a separate article.

The different types of permits

In principle, there are five different types of permits for EU/EFTA nationals. The short-term residence permit, the residence permit, the settlement permit, the cross-border commuter permit and the residence permit with gainful employment. It is important to note that the respective residence permits for EU/EFTA nationals automatically include the right to carry out gainful employment. The residence permit includes the work permit, so to speak. However, it is also possible to waive gainful employment altogether - in this case stricter requirements apply for obtaining a residence permit (see section II).

This differs from third-country nationals (non-EU/EFTA nationals), for whom the granting of a residence permit does not immediately include a work permit. Often very restrictive requirements apply to third-country nationals and in particular to refugees in order to obtain a work permit. However, we concentrate on the various residence permits for EU/EFTA nationals below:

Short-term residence permit (L Permit)

A short-term residence permit (L Permit) is to be issued if a person is only staying in Switzerland for a limi-ted period of time. A short-term stay within the meaning of this definition is granted if the person entering Switzerland stays for less than 1 year. This can take place with or without gainful employment. If the person entering the country is a national of an EU/EFTA country, he or she is entitled to this permit if the period of

employment lies between 3 months and 1 year. If the period of employment is less than 3 months, the indi-vidual does not need a permit considering the free movement of persons (Bilateral Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons AFMP).

Residence permit (B Permit)

Persons who are staying in Switzerland for a specific purpose and for a longer period of time are entitled to a residence permit (B Permit). The permit is valid for 5 years. A residence permit is issued depending on whether a person is gainfully employed in Switzerland or not. In the case of gainful employment, the permit is issued if the person entering the country is able to prove that he has an indefinite contract or a fixed-term contract with a minimum duration of one year. If the person entering the country does not wish to pursue gainful employment, he or she is only entitled to a residence permit (B Permit) if the person concerned can prove that he or she has sufficient financial resources and adequate health and accident insurance. At the end of the 5-year permit period, the permit is extended for another 5 years if the necessary conditions con-tinue to exist.

Settlement permit (C Permit)

Foreigners are only granted a settlement permit (C Permit) as an unlimited permit if they have resided in Switzerland continuously for 5 or 10 years (with a B Permit). After 5 years, the permit is granted to appli-cants who come from the original 15 EU member states. EU nationals from newer EU member states, on the other hand, do not receive a settlement permit until 10 years have elapsed. The settlement permit (C Permit) must be issued automatically and without conditions. Reference can be made to the above remarks on the granting of a residence permit (B Permit). In the case of a settlement permit, short-term residence permit or residence permit, the mobility of the permit holder in Switzerland is guaranteed.

Residence permit with gainful employment (Ci Permit)

Family members (i.e. spouses and children up to the age of 25) of civil servants, members of foreign repre-sentations and members of intergovernmental organisations are entitled to a residence permit with gainful employment (Ci Permit). The duration of the permit, however, depends on the duration of the main permit (e.g. the permit of the civil servant or member of a foreign representation). Diplomats and other members of foreign missions have a special residence status under international law in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Cross-border commuter permit (G Permit)

Cross-border commuters holding this special cross-border commuter permit (G Permit) can be persons who reside in an EU/EFTA country but are gainfully employed in Switzerland. This requires a return to the foreign

residence at least once a week. This permit is issued analogously to the residence permit (B Permit) if a person can prove that he or she has an indefinite employment contract or an employment contract lasting longer than one year. In this case, the validity period of the cross-border commuter permit is 5 years. If the employment contract is limited to a period of less than 1 year, the cross-border commuter permit lasts as long as the employment contract, whereby employment for a period of less than 3 months only requires a

registration procedure.

Obtaining a residence permit

Rules for persons without gainful employment

Pensioners, students or private individuals who move their place of residence to Switzerland without wor-king in Switzerland (see paragraph II for the rules for persons with gainful employment) must register in their municipality of residence within 14 days of arrival in Switzerland. (Please note that under the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons AFMP there is no obligation to obtain a permit or to register if less than 3 months of residence are planned). Upon registration, a residence permit without gainful employment (B Permit) can be applied for by presenting a valid passport or identity card. However, it is necessary to prove that you have sufficient financial resources and health and accident insurance to prevent you potentially becoming dependent on social welfare. Sufficient financial resources are assumed if a Swiss citizen in the same situation could not apply for social assistance (or supplementary Benefits in the case of pensioners). For further information, those affected should contact the cantonal migration authorities and observe SKOS guidelines. It is also essential to bear in mind that if you are staying in Switzerland for more than 3 months, you must take out compulsory health insurance with a Swiss health insurance Company.

Rules for persons with gainful employment

If the person entering the country wishes to take up gainful employment in Switzerland, the following approach must be followed: Residence permits are issued to gainfully employed persons if the persons concerned apply for a residence permit in the municipalities of residence within 14 days of arrival in Switzerland and in particular before taking up employment. In particular, a valid identification document and a declaration of employment from the future employer or the employment contract with exact details of the workload and the duration of the contract must be submitted. The procedure for self-employment is naturally somewhat different. In this case, the documents certifying the commencement of self-employment (CR entry and initial capital) have to be submitted. The conclusion that the person concerned may only take up gainful employment after a permit has been issued thus appears obvious. In this context, the authority can also review if the exercise of self-employment provides for a sufficient livelihood. If such a sufficient livelihood is no longer guaranteed and no other means of subsistence exists, the person concerned may lose the residence permit.

As a side note in this context, it may be added that the currently polarising question concerning the design of the framework agreement on accompanying measures between Switzerland and the EU concerns a dif-ferent topic: The main issue here is the 8-day notification period for foreign companies that send workers to Switzerland or employ foreign workers in Switzerland before they engage in gainful employment in Switzer-land. These accompanying measures are intended to avoid the increased risk of wage Dumping caused by the free movement of persons. However, this question concerns foreign companies as employers and not individual employees and their residence status in Switzerland.


The above shows that the bilateral agreement on the free movement of persons between the European Union and Switzerland has simplified many aspects of mobility and the obtaining of a residence permit. Nonetheless, there is a considerable number of different types of permits which does not facilitate the gran-ting process. Therefore, the free movement of persons does not mean that Switzerland no longer controls the access and residence of EU/EFTA citizens. The administrative rules are still in place and have to be observed.