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Swiss residence permits fall into a number of categories, as shown below.
Limited Validity (L) Permits
An ‘L’ permit (Aufenthaltsbewilligung L, permis de sejour L), issued in a purple cover, is for a limited period (begrenzte Gultigkeitllimitierte Gultigkeit, duree limitee), usually up to 12 months but can be extended for another 12 months. It’s generally granted to students, trainees, au pairs and specialists employed by foreign companies working as ‘consultants’ with Swiss (or Swiss-based) companies. It’s closely linked to the job for which it has been granted and, should this be terminated early, is revoked, whereupon the employee must leave Switzerland.
The validity of the permit is identical to the job contract, but may be renewed for less than 12 months provided the new quota hasn’t been exhausted.
There are over 60,000 L permit holders (both EU and non-EU).
Annual (B) Permits
A ‘B’ permit (Aufenthaltsbewilligung B, permis de sejour B/permis B) is usually valid for one year and is renewable. It’s generally issued only to qualified and experienced people in professions where there’s a shortage of skilled labour, and to spouses of Swiss citizens. However, there are also B permits for those who establish companies in Switzerland and so called ‘fiscal deal’ permits for those wishing to live but not work in Switzerland. The latter require a minimum (high) net wealth and must spend at least 180 days a year in the country.
B permits (in a grey cover) are normally renewed annually on application, although this isn’t an automatic entitlement. If you aren’t an EU citizen, an application for the renewal of a B permit must be made by your employer, although it’s your responsibility to ensure that your permit is renewed. EU citizens can obtain the relevant renewal forms from their local authority. There are fees for the renewal of annual permits, usually paid by the permit holder.
Each canton has an annual quota for new B permits, i.e. excluding renewals of existing B permits. Non-EU holders of B permits may be restricted in their ability to change employers or professions in their first few years in Switzerland.
There are over 500,000 B permit holders in Switzerland.
Settlement (C) Permits
A ‘C’ permit (Niederlassungsbewilligung, permis d’etablissement/permis C) entitles you to permanent residence and, although it may be reviewed from time to time, it can be renewed indefinitely provided the holder resides in Switzerland. C permits are issued (in a green cover) automatically to B permit holders after five or ten consecutive years as a resident in Switzerland. EU citizens (with the exception of those from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia) and Canadian and US nationals qualify for a C permit after five years.
The qualification period for citizens of all other countries is ten years, although a C permit can be granted after five years if a foreigner is well integrated in Switzerland – the ‘test’ for this usually being that he masters the relevant language. The ten-year qualification period is also reduced to five years for a non-EU national married to a Swiss national.
C permits are also issued to stateless people and official refugees after five years, and to the families of C permit holders. Holders of C permits don’t require permission to change jobs, change their cantons of residence or work, or become self-employed.
[Hampshire, David. (2015). Employment Conditions. In Living and Working in Switzerland (15th ed., p. 46). Bath: Survival Books.]