Basis for admission to the Swiss labour market for foreign nationals
Switzerland follows a dual system for granting foreign nationals access to the Swiss labour market. Regardless of their qualifications, workers from EU and EFTA states are granted easier access under the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons. Those from all other states – known as third-states – are admitted in a system complementary to the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons. Only a limited number of highly qualified workers can be admitted, since experience has shown that they have better long-term professional and social integration prospects than people with lower qualifications.
The admission criteria are listed in the Foreign Nationals Act (FNA) and the Ordinance on Admission, Residence and Employment (AREO). They are explained in more detail in the directives of the Foreign Nationals Act.
The following remarks summarise the most important admission criteria so that you understand the requirements for obtaining a work permit from the Swiss authorities and can submit a comprehensive and well-supported application.
The following information applies to all sectors. However, for certain sectors, personal requirements are regulated in more detail, information on minimum wages and working conditions are added, and exceptions to admission requirements are described. This additional information is contained in point 4.7 ff. of the FNA directives. More information on where to submit applications and on the admission procedures is available under ‘Procedure’.
(Art. 18 and Art. 19 FNA)
Admission of third-state nationals to the Swiss labour market is only granted if it is in the interests of Switzerland and the Swiss economy as a whole (Art. 18 and Art. 19 FNA). In each case, the prevailing labour market situation, long-term economic growth and the ability of the foreign national to integrate are taken into account.
Applicants must explain and document why their admission is in the overall economic interest.
(Art. 21 FNA)
Third-state nationals can be admitted only if it is not possible to recruit a person who qualifies for precedence from the labour market in Switzerland or in an EU/EFTA state. Precedence is given to Swiss nationals, foreign nationals with a permanent residence permit (Permit C), and foreign nationals with a residence permit authorising them to work (Permit B, incl. recognised refugees). In addition, precedence is granted to foreign nationals with temporary admission (Permit F), persons granted temporary protection who have a permit entitling them to work (Permit S) and all persons from countries with which a treaty on free movement has been concluded (Permits L and B). Employers must prove that, despite their best efforts, no suitable workers from the categories that take precedence could be recruited.
In doing so, employers must show that they made a genuine effort – in terms of the time spent, the geographical area searched and the measures used – to fill the position with an applicant from Switzerland or from an EU/EFTA state. Contact with third-country nationals should only take place after the search has proved unsuccessful.
Vacant positions must be registered with the regional employment centres (RAV) and advertised via the European Employment System (EURES). Employers must also demonstrate to the authorities that a search via the recruitment channels used in the sector (specialist journals, employment agencies, online portals and social media, private referrals, etc.) was unsuccessful. Suitable proof includes newspaper advertisements, confirmation from employment agencies, etc. A list of all the candidates with brief details of the qualifications they lacked is often helpful. In certain cases, the authorities may also request that special recruitment efforts be made.
(Art. 21a FNA)
In addition to the precedence given to applicants from Switzerland or from states with which a free movement agreement has been concluded (as per Art. 21 FNA), Art. 21a FNA requires notice to be given to regional employment agencies of certain job vacancies. This represents a further obstacle to admission for third-state nationals.
Obligation to give notice of vacant positions applies to those professions, areas of activity or economic regions in which the national unemployment rate is five percent or higher (Art. 53a para. 1 Recruitment Ordinance (RecO)). Within the transitional provisions, which apply from 1 July 2018 to 31 December 2019, the threshold is set at eight percent. The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO annually updates the list of professions that are subject to the obligation to give notice:
List of professions that are subject to the obligation to give notice
Vacancies in professions in which the unemployment rate is at or above the threshold, and which are to be filled by third-state citizens, must be registered with regional employment agencies unless an exception applies under Article 21a para. 6 FNA in conjunction with Art. 53d RecO. For example, jobseekers registered with the public regional employment centres (RAVs) regardless their nationality. In addition, exceptions apply to operational transfers within international companies of individuals who have been employed for at least six months with the same company and compulsory work placements during a period of training.
The obligation to register the vacancy must be monitored by the competent cantonal authority. Thus, when applying for a work permit for professions in which unemployment is higher than average, employers must include evidence that the vacancy has been officially registered.
Further information is available in German, French and Italian:
(Art. 22 FNA)
Salary, social security contributions and employment terms for foreign workers must accord with local, professional and sectoral conditions. Some sectors lay down these conditions in a collective labour agreement, which is legally binding at national or at least cantonal level. The authorities also carry out checks on wage and working conditions to ensure that foreign employees are not exposed to abusive working conditions and that workers already in Switzerland are protected from wage dumping.
When submitting an application, the employer must enclose a contract of employment signed by both parties but stating that “the contract applies only if the authorities grant a work permit”. This makes it clear that both parties understand the legal position. Whenever possible standard contract forms should be used.
Employers must register all employees with the various social security authorities. The Federal Social Insurance Office FSIO, together with the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO, has compiled a guide to social security (the Ratgeber Sozialversicherung) that offers clear and comprehensive information.
Foreign employees without permanent residence are subject to tax deduction at source and so must be registered with the tax authorities. It is then the employer's responsibility to deduct the tax each month from the salary and transfer it to the tax authorities. Further information on this subject can be obtained from the cantonal tax authorities or the Federal Tax Administration.
The new Federal Act on Illegal Employment (IEA) simplifies the procedure for paying social security contributions for smaller-scale employed jobs. It also contains new measures and more severe penalties to combat illegal employment. The principle for employers and foreign employees that all gainful activity – whether paid or unpaid – requires a permit remains unchanged. Violations of local, occupational and sector-specific wage and working conditions as well as illegal employment cases are normally investigated by the cantonal authorities or specialist agencies set up specifically for this purpose in some sectors and carry criminal penalties.
- State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO
Collective labour agreements (in German, French and Italian)
(State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO)
Social security guide (in German, French and Italian)
(Federal Social Insurance Office FSIO)
Tax deduction at source (in German, French and Italian)
(Federal Tax Administration FTA)
(Art. 23 FNA)
Admissions are limited to managers, specialists and other qualified workers. ‘Qualified workers’ primarily means individuals with a degree from a university or university of applied sciences who also have several years of professional experience. Depending on the profession or the field of specialisation, individuals with special training and several years of professional experience can also be admitted.
In addition to professional qualifications, certain integration criteria must be taken into account when granting residence permits: a person’s professional and social adaptability, language skills and age must suggest that they can become sustainably integrated into the Swiss labour market and Swiss society.
Qualifications are checked on basis of a person’s CV, their education certificates and their employment references. The authorities require copies of documents in their original language as well as translations into one of Switzerland’s official language or English.
If the foreign education or professional training system is significantly different from that of Switzerland, it is helpful for the authorities if documents contain additional information about the training institution and the length and content of training (e.g. curriculum, training certificates on examination subjects taken and results obtained, etc.).
(Art. 30 FNA)
In certain cases, certain legally regulated exceptions from the admission requirements are possible. The following overview is not exhaustive, but represents the most frequent cases:
- Management or specialist transfers in international companies
The precedence rules do not apply to operational transfers for senior managers and essential specialists in international companies.
- Internships and training and further education
- In global companies (knowledge transfer)
- Compulsory placements while studying
- Doctoral / post-doctoral students
Individuals who continue to study or pursue research work at a recognised or accredited Swiss higher education institution beyond their foundation degree, in order to develop a specialisation and thus ensure the best possible development of science and technology in Switzerland.
Recognised or Accredited Swiss Higher Education Institutions
- Family members
Family members of Swiss nationals and those holding residence permits do not need to go through an additional permit process to become self-employed or take up employment. Family members of people holding a short-term permit do require a permit. Salary and employment conditions must correspond to those that are customary for the job and the region, and evidence must be presented of fulfilment of the personal requirements.
- Au pairs
An au pair arrangement involves the temporary admission of young foreign nationals who arrive in Switzerland to improve their language skills and expand their general education through better knowledge of the host country. In return, au pairs provide the families they live with certain services, such as light housework and childcare. Au pairs from third states aged between 18 and 25 can be admitted for a maximum stay of 12 months. They are not subject to the precedence rule. However, as this increases the need for protection (trafficking in human beings, exploitation), it is compulsory to make au pair arrangements through an organisation recognised in Switzerland.
- Gainful employment following study in Switzerland (Art. 21 para. 3 FNA)
Foreign nationals can be admitted to work without having to provide evidence of their status under the precedence rule in Art. 21 FNA if there is a significant academic or economic interest in their employment. This rule applies only to degrees from recognised Swiss higher education institutions (universities and universities of applied sciences).
Recognised or Accredited Swiss Higher Education Institutions
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