Legal basis for access to the Swiss labour market by foreign nationals


Switzerland has a dual system for granting foreign nationals access to the Swiss labour market. Persons from EU or EFTA member states, regardless of their qualifications, are granted easy access to the Swiss labour market under the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons. By decree of the Federal Council, workers from all other states – third states, as they are referred to – are admitted in limited numbers to the labour market in Switzerland, if they are well qualified. Experience has shown that this category of workers has a better chance of professional and social integration than less qualified persons.

The criteria for admittance are contained in the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals (AuG) and in the Decree on Admittance, Residence and Employment (VZAE). They are explained in further detail in the directives on the implementation of the Foreign Nationals Act.

So that applicants understand the requirements for obtaining a work permit from the Swiss au-thorities and are therefore able to submit a comprehensive and well-documented application, the most important access requirements are summarized below.

The following information applies to all sectors. For certain sectors, however, the requirements regarding personal qualifications are regulated in more detail, there is information on minimum wages and working conditions, and on exceptions to the access requirements. This additional information is contained in point 4.7 of the directives. More information on where to submit applications and on procedures is available under “procedure”.


(Art. 21 AuG)

Third state nationals may only be admitted if a person can not be recruited from the labour market of Switzerland or another EU/EFTA member state. Swiss citizens, foreign nationals with a longterm residence permit or a residence permit allowing employment, as well as all citizens from those countries with which Switzerland has concluded the Free Movement of Persons Agreement (at present, the EU and EFTA states) are given priority. Employers must prove that they have not been able to recruit a suitable employee from this priority category, despite intensive efforts.

Vacant positions must be registered with the Regional Employment Offices (RAV) together with a request to register the vacancy in the European Employment System (EURES = the European Union’s Employment Services cooperation network). Once a potential employee has been put in contact with the employer and subsequently turned down, the employers generally receive a questionnaire in which they can state the reasons the potential employee was not hired.

Moreover, the employer must explain to the authorities why the search for a suitable candidate by means of the recruitment channels used in the specific industry, such as specialist journals, employment agencies, online job listings or corporate websites, etc., was not successful. Suitable proof includes job advertisements in newspapers, written confirmation from employment agencies, or other kinds of documentation. Often it is helpful for authorities if the employer submits a brief overview of all candidates with a short explanation of which qualifications for a particular job were lacking. In special cases, the authorities can request an employer to intensify his recruitment efforts.

Employment services

Salary/terms and conditions of employment customary in the region and in the trade

(Art. 22 AuG)

The salary, social security contributions and the terms of employment for foreign workers must be in accordance with conditions customary to the region and the particular sector. Some sectors and trades lay down these conditions in a collective labour agreement which is legally binding either on a national or, at least, cantonal level. When applications are submitted from trades that do not have a collective labour agreement, the Swiss authorities usually request information directly from the employers’ and employees’ associations on the terms customary in a particular sector. By examining the salary rates and terms of employment beforehand, the authorities can ensure that foreign workers are not exploited and that Swiss workers are protected against wage dumping.

When submitting an application, the employer must enclose a contract of employment that has been signed both by the employer and the employee and that contains a note reading "contract only valid on condition that the authorities grant a work permit". This provides both contracting parties with legal certainty. It is helpful for the Swiss authorities if the employing business enterprise uses a contract of employment that is customary to the particular sector of industry.

Employers are obliged to 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 guidebook on social security (Ratgeber Sozialversicherung) that offers comprehensive and clear information on this subject.

Foreign employees that do not have a long-term residence permit are subject to tax at source and therefore must be registered with the tax authorities. It is then the responsibility of the employer to deduct the amount of tax each month from the employee’s wage and pay the sum to the tax authorities. Further information on this subject is available from the cantonal tax authorities or from the Federal Tax Administration.

The new Federal Act on Illegal Employment (BGSA) facilitates, on the one hand, the payment of social security contributions for smaller, employed jobs. On the other hand, it contains new measures and more severe penalties to combat illegal employment. One provision that remains unchanged for both employer and foreign employee is that everyone – whether in paid or unpaid employment – requires a permit. Violations against compliance with the salaries and terms of employment customary to a particular region or sector of industry, as well as black labour are investigated first and foremost by the cantonal authorities or, in some sectors, by offices established mainly for this purpose. Employers found not to comply with the legal requirements will not receive any further work permits for foreign workers.


Personal qualifications

(Art. 23 AuG)

Cadre, specialists and other qualified employees will be admitted. "Qualified employee" means, first and foremost, people with a degree from a university or institution of higher education as well as several years of professional experience. Depending on the profession or field of specialisation, other people with special training and several years of professional work experience may also be admitted.

Besides professional qualifications, the applicant is also required to fulfil certain other criteria, which would facilitate his or her long-term professional and social integration. These include; professional and social adaptability, knowledge of a language (or languages) and age.

The Swiss authorities examine the person’s qualifications on the basis of their curriculum vitae, their education certificates and references. Applicants must submit copies of the original documents including a translation if the original documents are not in German, French, Italian, or English.

If an applicant comes from a nation whose education system or system of professional training greatly differs from that of Switzerland, it is helpful for the Swiss authorities if documents are submitted containing additional information on the institution, the length and the content of the education or training course. Documents that may be helpful include the curriculum vitae and education certificates showing what exams were taken and what the results were.

Exceptions to the admittance requirements

Exceptions to the admittance requirements may be made in certain cases. These are listed below. They are not conclusive but represent the most frequent circumstances:

Cooperation agreements/projects

  • Joint Ventures
  • Service and guarantee work for products from the country of origin
  • Temporary duties as part of large projects for companies with headquarters in Switzerland (international assignments)
  • Execution of a special mandate

Practical training and further education

  • With professional associations
  • With international business enterprises
  • In specially defined fields with training programs for small and medium-sized companies
  • To take up a temporary teaching position at a university or research institute
  • To take up a temporary teaching position at a recognized foreign educational establishment

Transfer of cadre or specialists

  • within international businesses
  • reciprocity agreements

Difficult recruitment situation in the labour market

  • Branches or groups of persons of economic significance who are urgently needed and who are determined by the State Secretariat for Migration in consultation with the competent cantonal authorities and the trade associations involved.

Employment following conclusion of a person’s studies

  • Highly qualified scientists with a degree obtained in Switzerland in areas or sectors in which there is a lack of potential labour.

Economic and other reasons with lasting effect or influence on the Swiss labour market

  • To open up new markets
  • To ensure important economic contacts abroad
  • To guarantee export volume
  • Formation of an enterprise or expansion of a company that creates long-term jobs for Swiss employees

Family members of Swiss nationals and persons with a long-term residence permit do not require authorisation for self-employment. Family members of other foreign nationals staying in Switzerland do require a permit, however.


(Art. 24 AuG)

Foreign nationals may only be admitted for employment if they have suitable accommodation.

Legal bases

to the top Last modification 19.10.2015