How to Get a Swiss Residence Permit Through Employment, Study or Investment

How to Get a Swiss Residence Permit Through Employment, Study or Investment

The Swiss quality of life is well-known: fresh air, immaculate cities, excellent medicine, high standards of education and the highest level of nominal wealth in the world. In addition, Switzerland is very attractive to expats: every fourth resident of this small (8.6 million people) country is a foreigner or is of foreign origin. We will explain how to get a Swiss residence permit.

What Is the Difference Between L and B Residence Permits?

There are two types of temporary residence permits in Switzerland.

Permit L is an initial residence permit valid for three to 12 months. It is issued for the purpose of internship, medical treatment, and for those who have a short-term employment contract. The L permit is extended only once and not for more than a year. This means that you cannot stay in Switzerland for longer than two years with this type of permit.

You can only apply for the L permit again after some time has passed since you last held the permit. For example, to apply for another 12-month residence permit, you must be out of the country for six months prior to the new application.

Permit B allows you to live in Switzerland for a year, with an extension of up to five years. You can get a B permit on the basis of a long-term employment contract, admission to a Swiss university or under a family reunification program. In some cantons, the B permit is issued to investors, businessmen, and affluent pensioners who have sufficient financial means to live in this expensive country.

Residence permit fees in Switzerland vary by canton, but it is approximately $114-$171 (100-150 Swiss francs). Contact details for the migration services of all 26 cantons are published on the website of the State Secretariat for Migration.

Zurich. Photo: Henrique Ferreira (Unsplash)

Swiss Permit Policy

The requirements are simpler for EU and EFTA citizens than for holders of other passports. These citizens are not subject to the quotas for residence permits that exist in each canton. It is enough to have an employment contract with a Swiss employer or proof of admission to a Swiss university.

In most cases, EU citizens will not need a short-term L permit either. For example, the self-employed or those who come to Switzerland for project work for a period of eight to 90 days only need to submit an online notification to the local migration office at least eight working days before arrival.

If you find a job in Switzerland, you can come to the country without any special formalities, sign a long-term contract with the employer and immediately get a B permit. Moreover, according to Swiss law, the employer must declare the employee's income (if it does not exceed a certain threshold, which is different in each canton) and pay taxes, as well as provide medical and social insurance.

In addition, holders of EU and EFTA passports can move to Switzerland without employment if they demonstrate sufficient financial support for the expected period of residence (as a rule, at least $1500-$2000 per person per month) to the migration service.

Third-country nationals need to consider a number of other factors. Firstly, there are quarterly quotas for issuing residence permits, which are set by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) annually and depend on the canton and the type of permits issued. On average, the annual limit for issuing L permits is 4000 units, and 4500 for B permits.

The limits are strictly followed. The migration service may refuse to issue a residence permit if the quota has been reached, even to those who have received a job offer from a Swiss employer.

Some exceptions are made for expats from the USA and Canada: they will be able to get permanent residency after five years of living in Switzerland, not 10 as for citizens of other countries. However, the same limits and restrictions apply to the issuance of a temporary residence permit for holders of Canadian and American passports.

Geneva. Photo: Anokhi De Silva (Unsplash)

Who Can Get a Working Residence Permit in Switzerland?

First of all, highly qualified employees are welcomed in Switzerland — physicists, biologists, chemists, doctors, IT specialists, financial officers with extensive experience, university professors, and architects experienced in using BIM technologies.

Expats do not have the right to apply for administrative positions in state institutions (state translator, museum worker or school teacher).

It is important to note that priority in Switzerland is given to local applicants. Secondly, Swiss employers tend to hire employees with EU and EFTA passports. To sign a contract with an expat from a third country, the company must prove to the migration services that none of the applicants from Switzerland or the EU are suitable.

In general, the process for obtaining a working residence permit in Switzerland is as follows:

  1. An expat finds a job and receives a preliminary offer from an employer.
  2. The employer informs the local migration services and requests their permission to hire an expat.
  3. The expat submits the necessary documents for a residence permit to the migration office. In addition to the work permit from the employer, the expat must provide a foreign passport, a photo and a receipt for the fee paid.

Basel. Photo: Johnson Hung (Unsplash)

Residence Permit Through Admission to Swiss University

Students enter Switzerland with a special D visa and after four to six months can apply for a residence permit. The Swiss Secretariat for Migration usually approves study for people under the age of 30, provided that the duration of training and internships will not exceed eight years.

Graduation from a Swiss university does not guarantee the opportunity to receive a job offer from an employer and the right to stay in the country. Some students are forced to leave the country after graduation but a Swiss diploma increases their chances of finding a job here in future.

Bachelor's degree programs in Switzerland last three years, while Master's degree programs last two years. There are additional post-university education and PhD programmes in the fields of architecture, medicine, natural sciences, as well as law. The cost of studying in Swiss universities varies greatly depending on the canton and the status of the educational institution — from 1000 to 10,000 Swiss francs per term ($1140-$11,400).

To apply to a Swiss university, at the first stage you will need:

  • Certified B2 level of language proficiency (German, French or Italian).
  • A motivation letter and CV.
  • A package of personal documents — photos, international passport, translated and certified copies of educational documents.
  • The paid application fee — 100-200 Swiss francs ($114-$228) on average, depending on the university.

If the university is interested in the candidate, the applicant will be offered to complete the introductory tasks and have an interview. If they pass it, they receive an invitation to study.

With a prepared package of documents from the university, you can apply for a Swiss student visa. You will need to fill out a questionnaire and attach copies of your previous diplomas, CV and motivation letter for training, as well as prove that you have sufficient funds for studying and living in the country (from 21,000-30,000 Swiss francs or $23,940-$34 200).

Bern. Photo: Fabian Schneider (Unsplash)

Swiss Residence Permit Through Investment

All but five cantons (Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft, Schaffhausen, and Zürich) have a personal residence permit programme for big investors and their family members.

The amount of the annual tax payment to the canton budget under this programme is from 450,000 to 1,000,000 Swiss francs ($513,000-$1,140,000). This amount may be reduced for EU and EFTA citizens.

The applicant must prove the legal origin of the funds, as well as demonstrate full financial independence, willingness to live permanently in Switzerland and provide financial support for their family, including paying social security tax for all its members (18,000 Swiss francs or $20,520 per year). 

Each application for residency through investment in Switzerland is considered individually, and the duration of negotiations with the migration services within this programme may last several months. Fewer than 100 residence permits for investors are issued annually throughout the country.

You cannot get a residence permit after the purchase of real estate in Switzerland. Only Swiss citizens and holders of a permanent residence permit have the right to freely purchase real estate in the country without special permission from the authorities.

Lausanne. Photo: Delia Giandeini (Unsplash)

In a Nutshell

It is much easier to move to Switzerland for expats with EU, Liechtenstein, Norwegian or Icelandic passports. For all other nationals, there are quarterly quotas for residence permits.

The most reliable way to get a long-term B permit is to find a job in Switzerland. Software developers, architects, physicists, chemists, biologists, and doctors are in high demand here. Investors can also get a Swiss residence permit, but they must be prepared to contribute at least $513,000 of tax annually, apart from the costs of doing business and supporting themselves and their family.

Cover photo: Zurich, Rhiannon Elliott (Unsplash)

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