FAQ Brexit

Following the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU, the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) with the EU will no longer apply between Switzerland and the United Kingdom (UK). Switzerland and the UK signed an agreement on acquired citizen rights on 25 February 2019. The agreement is intended to protect the residence rights (and other rights) of Swiss and British citizens acquired under the AFMP. With this agreement, these rights are preserved beyond Brexit. The agreement thus provides legal certainty for these persons.

Nationals from the United Kingdom wanting to immigrate after the end of the AFMP are not covered by the present agreement on acquired citizen rights (see question 10). Family reunification remains possible under this new agreement.

According to recent developments in the negotiations between UK and the EU, UK’s withdrawal from the EU has been postponed. Information on the date of the entry into force of the agreement on acquired citizens’ rights depends on the progress of these negotiations.

The agreement on acquired citizens’ rights will come into force as soon as the AFMP no longer applies between Switzerland and the United Kingdom. This will be after the end of the transition period agreed between the EU and the UK, e.g. probably on 1 January 2021.

The EU and the United Kingdom have to ratify the withdrawal agreement before there can be a transition period. This process has not yet been completed.

If the UK leaves the EU without a transitional period, the agreement on acquired citizens’ rights shall be applied on a provisional basis from the day after the UK left the EU.

The withdrawal agreement between the EU and UK has therefore an impact on when this agreement on the citizens’ rights comes into force.

Switzerland is not a member State of the EU. The withdrawal agreement regulates relations regarding immigration between the EU and the UK. Switzerland and the UK have thus drawn up their own bilateral agreement on their acquired citizens’ rights.

The agreement protects AFMP-rights acquired before the AFMP ceases to apply between Switzerland and the UK. Some of the areas covered by the new agreement are:

  • Residence with gainful employment (employed and self-employed)
  • Residence without gainful activity
  • Right to family reunification
  • Employment in Switzerland as a cross-border commuter
  • Continuation of service provisions (up to 90 days per calendar year) in the other party by companies and self-employed persons domiciled in Switzerland or the United Kingdom
  • Principle of non-discrimination
  • Right to purchase immovable property

You’ll find further information on social security and the recognition of professional qualifications on the websites of the Federal Social Insurance Office and the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation. 
Federal Social Insurance Office 
State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation

There are four major differences between the AFMP and the bilateral agreement on the acquired citizen rights between Switzerland and the United Kingdom:

  1. Before issuing a new short-stay permit, residence permit or border commuter permit, the competent authority may require  nationals from UK to produce an extract from the criminal records register.
     
  2. Offences committed after the AFMP ceases to apply will be assessed according to the rules of the Foreign Nationals and Integration Act (FNIA), as is the case for non-EU/EFTA nationals. For convictions, the penal provisions with regard to expulsion apply.
     
  3. Five years after the AFMP ceases to apply, the reunification of future spouses will be regulated by the provisions of the FNIA. These provisions are somewhat stricter than the AFMP rules. For example, a person must prove that they have sufficient financial means to pay their own and their family members’ living expenses.
     
  4. The preferential market access for person-related service provisions under the AFMP (90 days per calendar year) is no longer applicable to provision who start after the AFMP. Those services fall under the conditions of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) of the WTO. Service provisions which started during the application of the AFMP can be concluded under the terms of the AFMP.

Rights can be acquired for as long as the AFMP still applies between Switzerland and the UK.

The EU and the UK have agreed a transition period which is due to run until the end of 2020. If this transition period is implemented, the AFMP will still apply between Switzerland and the UK. This means that AFMP rights could be acquired at the latest by 31 December 2020.

For the transition period to be implemented, the EU and the UK must ratify the withdrawal agreement. This process has not yet been concluded.

If the UK leaves the EU without a withdrawal agreement and without a transitional period, the agreement on acquired citizens' rights will be applied on a provisional basis from the day after the UK leaves the EU. UK nationals must therefore have entered Switzerland before UK leaves the EU and have met the admission requirements of the AFMP.

UK nationals living in Switzerland who obtained a short- or long-stay residence permit before the AFMP ceased to apply and are therefore registered in a commune do not generally need to take any action. The same applies to persons with an EU/EFTA cross-border commuter permit.

There is, however, a possibility that UK nationals with a valid residence permit may be called upon to exchange their current permit for another. This would not affect their existing right to remain, as long as the person concerned continues to meet the relevant residence requirements under the AFMP. If they are not called on to exchange their permit, they must simply apply for a new permit before their existing one expires, as usual.

In Switzerland. the cantons are responsible for issuing residence permits. The issuing authorities in each canton can be found here:
Cantonal immigration and labour market authorities

No, British citizens only fall under the agreement on acquired citizens’ rights if they were admitted to Switzerland under the provisions of the Free Movement of Persons Agreement (AFMP). Holders of a FDFA legitimation card or a Ci permit do not fall under the AFMP (see 1.3.4 of the Directives on the Ordinance for Implementing the Free Movement of Persons – ‘Weisungen zur VEP’ – not available in English).

The rights acquired under this agreement are valid indefinitely, provided the conditions stipulated in the agreement are met.

The acquired rights are lost, if the terms of this agreement are no longer met.

Example 1: A UK national who gives up his/her residence in Switzerland by announcing his/her departure to another country cannot ‘reactivate’ his/her acquired rights at a later stage. Without announcing the departure, short-stay permits and residence permits expire after absences from Switzerland of more than six months. Upon request, the settlement permit can be maintained for four years in case of absences from Switzerland.

Example 2: A person who commits a crime and poses a threat to public order after the AFMP ceases to apply may lose their acquired residence rights based on the somewhat stricter provisions of the FNIA.

Example 3: UK employees in Switzerland who become unemployed can stay in Switzerland while drawing unemployment benefits. After their entitlement to unemployment benefits expires, they must either find gainful employment or meet the requirements of another residence category  under the AFMP in order to stay in Switzerland. Otherwise they will lose their acquired residence rights (see the factsheets on the different residence categories as well as the FAQ AFMP > Job loss) on the SEM website: 
Free Movement of Persons Switzerland – EU/EFTA: Factsheets 
FAQ AFMP

The agreement on the acquired citizen rights was approved by the Federal Council on 19 December 2018 and signed by Switzerland and UK on 25 February 2019. As usual, the Federal Assembly will also have to approve the agreement. At the end of this approval process, the agreement will be subject to an optional referendum.

When the agreement on the acquired citizen rights comes into force depends on the implementation of the EU-UK withdrawal agreement. In the withdrawal agreement, the two parties have agreed on a transition period until the end of 2020. During this transition period, the AFMP will also continue to apply between Switzerland and the UK and will only cease to apply after the end of the transition period. The agreement on the acquired citizens’ rights would therefore come into effect on 1 January 2021.

If the United Kingdom leaves the EU without a withdrawal agreement and without a transitional period, the agreement on acquired citizens' rights shall be applied on a provisional basis from the day after the UK's withdrawal from the EU. This would mean that nationals from UK must have entered Switzerland and have met the conditions for admission under the AFMP before the UK hast left the EU.  

UK nationals wanting to immigrate to Switzerland after the end of the AFMP are not covered by the present agreement.

Unless an additional bilateral agreement between Switzerland and the UK is concluded, UK nationals wanting to immigrate to Switzerland after the AFMP ceases to apply must meet the terms of the Foreign Nationals and Integration Act FNIA. They would be subject to quotas in such a case. In February, the Federal Council decided to create separate quotas for 3500 persons. This guarantees the necessary flexibility for the Swiss economy, which can thus continue to recruit British workers.

Switzerland and the UK are also conducting talks on a possible future immigration scheme. The exact form of the scheme has not yet been agreed. Any agreement on immigration after the AFMP ceases to apply must respect the terms of the Swiss Constitution (e.g. Art. 121a ).

Currently, a revision of regulation (EU) 2018/1806 is being prepared at EU level. With the revision of this regulation, citizens of the United Kingdom are exempted from visa requirements for a short-term stay (90 days in any 180-day period) for the Schengen area (therefore including Switzerland) also in case of a no-deal withdrawal.

For further information:
Passport rules for travel to Europe after Brexit
(GOV.UK)

In case of an orderly withdrawal from the EU based on the negotiation agreement, the current provisions apply during a transition period until 31.12.2020. This means that also in this case, citizens of the UK who are currently Union citizens do not need a visa to travel to Switzerland.

For citizens of the UK travelling to Switzerland for a short-term stay (duration of no more than 90 days in any 180-day period), the entry conditions for such persons are as follows:

  • they are in possession of a valid travel document entitling the holder to cross the border under following conditions (list of travel documents authorizing entry into Switzerland):
    • - they must hold a recognised travel document valid for at least three months after the intended date of departure from the Schengen area and issued within the previous ten years (the date of issue concerns only entry into the Schengen area);
    • - if the person possesses a residence permit of a Schengen country (list of residence permits issued by Member States) or a valid type D visa (national visa; if requested by a Schengen state), the travel document shall be valid at the time of entry and during the planned stay.
  • they must explain the purpose and conditions of their stay in Switzerland and/or in the Schengen state(s) they intend to visit;
  • they must have sufficient financial resources to cover the entire duration of the intended stay as well as the return trip to their country of origin or a transit trip to a third country, or they must be able to obtain the necessary financial resources by some other lawful means;
  • they must not be the subject of an alert issued in order to prevent them from entering Switzerland;
  • they must not pose a threat to Swiss security, public order, public health or the international relations of any of the Schengen states;
  • they may not have been sentenced to expulsion from or refusal of entry to Switzerland.

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