Swiss residence permit for NON EU/EFTA citizens

Living and working in Switzerland is still highly attractive to foreigners. In order to achieve this goal, foreigners must overcome many official hurdles. Switzerland has a tightly knit system that regulates and controls the access of foreigners to Switzerland.

When processing applications from abroad, Switzerland first differentiates between citizens from an EU/EFTA state and all other states. In the following, we will show in detail what the rules are for citizens from a non-EU/EFTA state. The rules for EU/EFTA nationals are described in a separate article.

Obtaining a work permit

Compared to EU/EFTA nationals, people from non-EU/EFTA countries are confronted with extremely restrictive conditions for obtaining a work permit in Switzerland. A distinction must be made between personal and labor market requirements. First of all, the personal requirements: Only well-qualified applicants can hope for a positive decision. Well-qualified means that they are primarily managers, specialists and other qualified workers. The focus will always be on a person with a university or university of applied sciences degree and several years of professional experience. In addition, criteria such as professional and social adaptability, language skills and the age of the person concerned must also be taken into account. These personal requirements of a person are supplemented by the labor market requirements of the Foreign Nationals Act (FNIA): (1) the admission of the person concerned should be in the overall economic interest from a Swiss perspective; (2) the employer proves that no national or EU/EFTA national could be found for the position in question; (3) the employer submits a corresponding application; (4) the salary and working conditions customary for the location, profession and industry are complied with and (5) there are free quotas.

The explanations mentioned above on obtaining a work permit deviate to some extent from the migration and refugee system, as these areas require special regulations and procedures.

The different types of residence permits

In contrast to nationals from the EU/EFTA area, third-country nationals do not receive a residence permit as well as a work permit. Applicants are often confronted with high hurdles. Please refer to the above regarding the granting of work permits. The various residence permits are discussed below. If nothing to the contrary is stipulated, the conditions for obtaining a work permit set out above apply (particularly deviations in the migration system).

Third-country nationals

Short-term residence permit (permit L)

Anyone staying in Switzerland for up to one year, or a maximum of two years by extension, must apply for a short-term residence permit (Permit L) as a third-country national. In this respect, there are no differences to EU/EFTA nationals. However, as a difference for short stays from EU/EFTA states, the Federal Council sets a maximum number of permits per year. Once the maximum number set by the Federal Council has been reached, no more short-stay permits can be issued.

Residence permit (Permit B)

Third-country nationals are eligible for a residence permit (B permit) if they wish to stay in Switzerland for a specific purpose, with or without gainful employment. Please refer to the information on EU/EFTA nationals. For the first time, the permit is issued with a time limit of 1 year. Furthermore, only those who have a family reunion or a work permit are usually granted such a permit.

Settlement permit (C permit)

If a person with a residence permit (Permit B) has been living in Switzerland for many years (5 years if the applicant comes from one of the "old" 15 EU member states or 10 years if the applicant comes from another country), he or she will be granted a settlement permit (Permit C).

Residence permit with gainful employment (Ci permit)

There is no difference compared to EU/EFTA nationals with regard to the Ci residence permit. This permit is only available to family members (i.e. spouses and children up to the age of 25) of civil servants, members of foreign representations or members of intergovernmental organizations.

Cross-border commuter permit (Permit G)

Cross-border commuters are persons who have their place of residence/residence in the foreign border zone but are gainfully employed in Switzerland. However, it is necessary for cross-border commuters to return to their place of residence/stay abroad at least once a week in order to be granted a cross-border commuter permit (Permit G). In the case of cross-border commuters from third countries, such a permit will only be issued if these persons can demonstrate a permanent right of residence in a neighbouring country of Switzerland and have been resident in the border area for at least 6 months. The permit is regularly issued by the border canton and is only valid in this zone. If the cross-border commuter wishes to change jobs, this again requires a permit.


Recognised refugees - granting of asylum (Permit B)

If a person fulfils the refugee characteristics and the national rules on granting asylum, he or she is issued with a permit B. The same rules apply as for the third-country nationals. For the first time, the grant is therefore limited to one year. Extensions are possible. As a rule, after ten years of residence in the Switzerland for an unlimited settlement permit (Permit C). If the integration is successful, this award can be granted after only five years. Refugees may at any time pursue a gainful activity. The only requirement is that the employer must report to the cantonal authorities. The authorities then check whether the employer has paid the wage and complies with working conditions in order to ensure the protection of the person.

Residence permit for temporarily admitted refugees (Permit F)

Refugees with an F permit are considered refugees, but do not fulfil the required characteristics in the national asylum granting process. They are thus considered to be removed and would in principle have to leave Switzerland. For legal and humanitarian reasons, however, these persons are allowed to remain in Switzerland temporarily, as the execution of the expulsion/refoulement cannot be completed. The reasons for this can be threefold: either an unreasonableness (endangerment of the foreigner in case of expulsion due to e.g. illness and insufficient medical care), an inadmissibility if the expulsion violates mandatory international law (e.g. prohibition of non-refoulement) or an impossibility for enforcement-related reasons (lack of travel documents). In this sense, the F permit for refugees is not a permit, but merely a confirmation of the impossibility of refoulement. Only for this reason are the persons concerned allowed to remain in Switzerland. This permit can also be issued to a third-country national who does not fulfil refugee status but cannot be expelled for the same reasons. Since 1 January 2019, refugees with this permit may engage in gainful employment by simplified notification to the cantonal authorities in accordance with Art. 85a AIG. However, the employer must prove compliance with wage and working conditions in the notification. The right to remain in Switzerland temporarily can be granted for 12 months. After expiry, an extension is possible.

Asylum seekers/migration (Permit N)

Refugees have a special residence status based on their need for protection. Asylum seekers are granted the right to be present in the respective country of protection on the basis of international law. On arrival in Switzerland, asylum seekers are issued with an N permit. The persons entitled to this permit are always those who are in the asylum procedure. Strictly speaking, this is not a residence permit in the narrower sense, but a mere right of presence/right to tolerate. For asylum seekers, there is an absolute ban on gainful employment for the first three months of their stay in Switzerland from the submission of the asylum application. An extension of the ban is possible for 3 months. After expiry of this ban period, there is the possibility of admission to gainful employment. The following requirements must be met: (1) based on the economic and employment situation, employment is possible; (2) there is an application from an employer; (3) the priority of nationals is complied with; (4) the wage conditions and working conditions customary in the locality and industry are complied with and, under certain circumstances, (5) compliance with other cantonal regulations is ensured.

Vulnerable persons (Permit S)

In the same context as asylum seekers, persons in need of protection may stay in Switzerland temporarily as holders of the S permit. However, this does not mean a right of residence in the sense of the period of validity, but merely admission for reasons of protection, such as in states of civil war, provided the person concerned belongs to the group designated accordingly by the Federal Council. If the need for protection ceases to exist, the person is required to leave Switzerland. However, they are not entitled to cross the border or return to Switzerland if they leave. In contrast to the asylum seeker, no procedure for reviewing refugee status is triggered. The initial duration is limited to 12 months. With regard to the employment opportunities of persons in need of protection, reference should be made to what has been said about asylum seekers. Persons in need of protection are also subject to the 3-month ban and the subsequent requirements for taking up gainful employment.


The fact that obtaining a residence and work permit in Switzerland as a third-country national is fraught with high hurdles becomes clear at the latest from the above explanations. Above all, it is important to obtain the necessary information from the relevant migration offices and to make the necessary notifications in good time.