From a legal perspective, there are two categories of foreign employee: nationals of EU/EFTA countries and nationals of other countries.
As a result of the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons, workers from the EU/EFTA area benefit from simplified access to the Swiss job market and to companies in the Confederation, irrespective of their level of qualification. As for other countries—i.e. what are known as third countries—only qualified workers are admitted, and in restricted proportions, according to the mandate of the Federal Council.
The admission criteria are mentioned in the Federal Law on Foreign Nationals (LEtr) and the Order on Admission, Stays and Exercise of a Gainful Activity (OASA). They are set out in greater detail in the LEtr directives.
Nationals of EU/EFTA countries
For nationals of EU/EFTA countries, the bilateral agreements with the EU have introduced preconditions for expansion of rights. The Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) gradually introduces, between Switzerland and the EU, the rules on free movement as they are applied in the EU.
Swiss and EU nationals are therefore granted the right to freely choose their place of work and residence on the territories of the countries party to this agreement. For this, they must have a valid employment contract, carry out a self-employed activity, or—if they do not carry out a gainful activity—have sufficient financial resources and health insurance. Moreover, nationals of EU/EFTA countries may take up residence in Switzerland for 3 months to find a job. During this period, no permit is necessary.
Up until 31 December 2021, Croatian nationals are subject to several transitory provisions concerning the exercise of gainful activities and provision of services in Switzerland. These progressive annual maximums of short-term residence permits and residence permits are described in the PDF document "Croatia: Entry and residence (PDF, 263 kB, 14.11.2019)" (Free movement of persons with Croatia – Federal Council press release of 7 December 2018).
Recruiting staff in the EU using EURES
EURES (EURopean Employment Services) is a network for cooperation between the public employment services of the European Union and of the EFTA countries. The aim of EURES is to simplify the mobility of workers in all countries of the European Union (EU) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Switzerland joined the EURES network on June 1, 2002 as part of the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons. In Switzerland, coordination of the EURES network is handled by the Employment Department of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and the cantons, supported by the Federal Migration Office.
EURES Switzerland supports mobility and improves the transparency of the labor market. The EURES Switzerland advisors:
- help you in your search for staff in Switzerland or in the various countries of the European Union and EFTA (EU/EFTA)
- provide you with information and advice on the entries and stays of workers in Switzerland
- provide you with information about temporarily assigning workers in EU/EFTA countries
Persons from third countries
The following labor law rules apply to persons from third countries carrying out a gainful activity:
- Short-term permit L: change of job and canton possible with permit (Art. 37 (1) and Art. 38 (1) LEtr), taxation at source.
- Residence permit B: change of job in principle without permit (Art. 38 (2) LEtr) and canton possible with permit (Art. 37 (2) LEtr), granted if purpose is determined and can be accompanied by other conditions (Art. 33 (2) LEtr), taxation at source.
- Residence permit C: on the labor market, same status as Swiss citizens, no taxation at source.
- Border permit: change of job and canton possible with permit (Art. 39 (1) and Art. 39 (2) LEtr), taxation at source.
- Internship permit: maximum of 18 months, only for stays of young professionals completing in-house training, granting of the permit comes, among other things, under the agreement on internships (Art. 42 OASA).
- Asylum seekers: obligation to wait (for the first three months after the asylum application, the applicant is not authorized to carry out a gainful activity, Art. 43 (1) LAsi; in the event of refusal, the canton may forbid the carrying out of a paid activity for a further three months), provisional permit for the carrying out of a gainful activity (if the economic situation and job situation permit, Art. 52 (1)(a) OASA and if the pay and working conditions are met, Art. 22 LEtr, and also if the order of priority is respected, Art. 21 LEtr), change of job possible with permit (Art. 64 LEtr), change of canton in principle impossible, taxation at source, 10% of income is deducted for security reasons.
- Transfer of managerial staff: according to the General Agreement on the Trade in Services (GATS), indispensable managerial staff can be retained in Switzerland for a maximum of 48 months. The permit is granted for the duration of the gainful activity.
The duty of supervision and diligence lies with the employer. The employer must therefore ensure that the foreign employee has a permit in order to start work with it. In order to obtain a permit to enter Switzerland, the employer must prove that it was impossible to find a competent person in Switzerland and that in-house training for another of its employees would not have been possible within the timeframe.