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Before making any plans to live or work in Switzerland, you must ensure that you have a valid passport (with a visa if necessary) and the appropriate documentation to obtain a residence permit.
The laws regarding work and residence permits for European Union and European Free Trade Association nationals (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), which together comprise the European Economic Area (EEA), changed in 2002 when a bilateral treaty between Switzerland and the EU/ EEA came into effect. There are now two distinct categories of foreigners living and working in Switzerland: EU/EFTA citizens, who in many ways have similar rights to Swiss citizens, and non-EU (called ‘third-state’) citizens, for whom it has become much more difficult to obtain work and/or residence permits. (The acronym EU is used here to refer to both EU and EFTA nationals in this chapter, unless otherwise noted.)
Foreigners entitled to live or work (or both) in Switzerland are issued with a residence permit (Aufenthaltsbewilligung, autorisation de sejour) called a ‘foreigners’ permit’ (Austanderausweis, livret pour etrangers). Although it isn’t mandatory, it’s advisable to carry your Swiss residence permit, passport or other official form of identification with you at all times within Switzerland.
Older children without residence permits should carry passports or identity cards to verify their age, for example to purchase reduced price public transport tickets and cinema tickets for age restricted performances. Secondary school children are usually issued with a school identity or student card (Schülerausweis/Studentenausweis, carte d’identite scolairelcarte d’etudiant).
Foreigners working for international organisations in Switzerland (such as the United Nations) are issued with an identity card (ldentitatskarte, carte de legitimation) and not a residence permit, and aren’t subject to quotas or the same regulations as those employed by Swiss employers.
Immigration is the responsibility of the Federal Office of Migration (031-325-1111, www.bfm.admin.ch), established on 1st January 2005, which publishes a number of documents (in English and other languages) for prospective immigrants.
Some foreigners require a visa to enter Switzerland, whether as a visitor or for any other purpose. This includes most, so-called, third-state nationals – a term used by the Swiss authorities to refer to anyone who isn’t a citizen of an EU or EFTA member country. It doesn’t mean nationals of third-world countries. If in doubt, check with a Swiss embassy or consulate.
If you aren’t a national of a Schengen member country or a country on the Schengen visa-free list (see http://switzerland.visahq.com), you’ll need a Schengen visa (https://www.eda.admin.ch/eda/en/fdfa/entry-switzerland-residence/visa-requirements-application-form.html), costing around €60, to visit Switzerland. This also allows you to travel freely within all Schengen countries for up to 90 days in a six-month period or 180 days a year.
Schengen visa holders aren’t permitted to live permanently or work in Switzerland (or any Schengen member country), although business trips aren’t considered to be employment. Foreigners who intend to take up employment or a self-employed activity in Switzerland (or any Schengen country) may require an employment visa (see below), even if they’re listed on the Schengen visa-free list.
To extend a stay beyond three months without leaving Switzerland, you must apply to the local canton’s ‘alien’s police’ and be registered by your landlord with the local community if your stay exceeds three months. If you wish to establish temporary residence for longer than six months a year, you must apply at a Swiss embassy or consulate before coming to Switzerland.
Third-state (non-EU) nationals aren’t permitted to visit Switzerland as tourists and seek employment, because applications for work permits are only considered when a non-EU national is outside Switzerland. However, you can visit Switzerland to meet prospective employers or attend interviews.
If you need a visa for employment (Einreisevisum zum Stellenantritt, visa d’entree pour prise d’emploi) in Switzerland, the procedure is as follows:
- An offer of employment is sent to you by your prospective Swiss employer, stating your anticipated start date.
- You take this with your passport to the Swiss embassy or consulate in your country of residence, where you’ll be asked to complete a number of forms and provide passport photographs, which are sent to Switzerland for processing. Contact your nearest Swiss embassy or consulate, who will tell you what’s required.
- On receipt of your acceptance of the job offer, your prospective Swiss employer will apply to the cantonal alien’s police for a residence permit.
- When the application is approved, authorisation to issue the visa is sent to the nearest Swiss embassy or consulate in your country of residence. They will contact you and ask you to visit them with your passport, in which a visa is stamped permitting you to enter Switzerland to take up employment.
[Hampshire, David. (2015). Permits and Visas. In Living and Working in Switzerland (15th ed., pp. 43, 44). Bath: Survival Books.]