Switzerland

    Guidance

    1.1 Has any guidance already been issued in relation to Brexit, for example on residence or work permits in the event of a no-deal Brexit?

    Yes, partially.

    Switzerland wishes to ensure that the existing mutual rights and obligations in its relationship with the UK will continue to apply as far as possible after the UK leaves the EU. The Federal Council (Swiss Government) adopted its 'Mind the Gap' strategy early on, in October 2016, and has since been in regular contact with the UK. The discussions between Switzerland and the UK on an agreement to secure the rights of Swiss citizens in the UK and vice versa have now been finalised. On 19 December 2018, the Federal Council approved a bilateral agreement with the UK on the post-Brexit rights of Swiss and British citizens; the agreement was then signed on 25 February 2019 and submitted for consultation on 22 March 2019. The consultation proceedings should run until 29 May 2019. The agreement will apply provisionally after the UK leaves the EU.

    This bilateral agreement protects the rights of Swiss nationals in the UK and of UK nationals in Switzerland that were acquired under the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP), such as residence rights, social benefits and the recognition of professional qualifications. This bilateral agreement with the UK will however not apply to people who immigrate after the AFMP is no longer valid. With this agreement, the common objective is to secure the acquired rights of Swiss and UK citizens as far as possible in all scenarios, including in the event of a disorderly exit (no-deal Brexit). In this eventuality, the Swiss and British governments intend to apply the agreement as of the day following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. If a transition period is put in place between the EU and UK, the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU will continue to apply to Swiss-UK relations. New agreements between Switzerland and UK would therefore only enter into force after this transition period had lapsed.

    Furthermore, as part of its contingency planning, the Federal Council took two additional decisions on 22 March 2019 to safeguard good relations between Switzerland and the UK in the field of migration in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

    Firstly, the Federal Council adopted a revision of the Ordinance on Admission, Period of Stay and Employment (ASEO) with a separate quota for UK nationals. As a temporary measure, it has introduced a separate quota of 3,500 permits for workers from the UK for the period between the UK’s disorderly (no-deal) withdrawal from the EU and 31 December 2019 (the measure will apply only if there is a disorderly Brexit).

    The 3,500 permits are divided between 2,100 residence permits (for stays of more than one year; B-permit) and 1,400 short-stay permits (for stays of up to one year; L-permit). This measure takes account of the exceptional circumstances in relations with the UK and is a transitional solution that will apply until future migration arrangements have been clarified. In this respect, talks are under way on a possible bilateral agreement between Switzerland and the UK that would permit derogations from the admission requirements contained in the Foreign Nationals and Integration Act (FNIA) for a temporary period.

    Secondly, the EU is expected to exempt UK nationals from the requirement to obtain a visa to enter the Schengen area after the UK leaves the EU. These future developments regarding Schengen (with which Switzerland, being part of the Schengen Area, will have to align itself) mean that amendments have to be made to the Ordinance on Entry and the Granting of Visas (VGO), which will enter into force from the day on which the AFMP no longer applies to the UK. The Federal Council has approved this future Schengen development in advance so as to be able to respond flexibly to developments in relations between the EU and the UK.

    The Federal Council has also decided to exempt UK nationals from the requirement to obtain a visa to enter Switzerland for a lengthy stay. The VGO has been amended accordingly. This amendment will apply from the day on which the AFMP ceases to apply to the UK. In return, the UK has confirmed that Swiss nationals will also be exempt from the requirement to obtain a visa once the UK leaves the EU, both for short and longer stays in the UK.

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    Business visas

    2.1 When UK employees become third-country nationals will they require a business visa?

    As mentioned above, the situation from a Swiss perspective depends on the decisions taken by the EU authorities, with which Switzerland, being part of the Schengen Area, has to align itself.

    Regulation (EU) 2019/592 of 10 April 2019 exempts UK citizens from the requirement for a Schengen visa. It will apply from the day the UK is no longer subject to EU law. When it takes effect, UK citizens will be able to enter and stay in the Schengen area for a maximum of 90 days in any rolling 180-day period.

    The Schengen exemption will apply:

    • from Brexit date in the event of no deal;
    • from 1 January 2021 if the Withdrawal Agreement (‘WA’) is ratified (under the WA, UK nationals keep their EU free movement rights until 31 December 2020).

    In addition, the Federal Council has also decided to exempt UK nationals from the requirement to obtain a visa to enter Switzerland for a lengthy stay.

    However, even if allowed to enter and stay visa free, UK citizens willing to work in Switzerland would nonetheless and in principle need a work permit (see below).

    2.2 What documentation will be required for business travel on arrival at the border once UK citizens are considered third-country nationals?

    Travel documents (valid passport) that have been issued for less than ten years and that are valid for at least three months after departure from Switzerland.

    Proof of duration and purpose of stay as border control may ask additional questions concerning duration and purpose of stay.

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    Permission to work

    3.1 When UK citizens become third-country nationals will they need permission to work?   

    Yes. It has to be specified that permission to work is needed not only for third-country nationals but also for EU nationals. The difference between EU and third-country nationals relates to the conditions to obtain permission to work (see below).

    3.2 If permission to work is needed do any quotas apply for employing third-country nationals?

    Yes, quotas apply for employing third-country nationals. As mentioned above, as a temporary measure, the Federal Council has introduced a separate quota of 3,500 permits for workers from the UK, which would be valid for the period between the UK’s disorderly withdrawal from the EU and 31 December 2019.

    3.3 If permission to work is needed, as of when will it be needed?

    Any working activity performed in Switzerland requires, in principle, permission to work, subject to a few exceptions (e.g. business meetings). The difference between EU nationals and third-country nationals is that the former have a right to obtain permission to work based on the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) concluded with EU, while the latter do not have such a right, permission to work being subject to restrictive conditions.

    Therefore, in the absence of any specific contingency rules or specific agreements, the status would be as follows:

    • As long as the AFMP is still applicable between Switzerland and UK (i.e. until the date of a no-deal Brexit or until the end of the transition period if such a transition period is put in place between EU and UK): permission to work is needed and must be requested, but UK nationals have a right to obtain it.
    • When the AFMP is no longer applicable between Switzerland and UK (i.e. as of the date of a no-deal Brexit or as of the end of the transition period if such a transition period is put in place between EU and UK): permission to work is needed and must be requested, but UK nationals do not have a right to obtain it; they are subject to restrictive conditions in the same way as third-country nationals.

    3.4 If permission to work is needed, what are the most common categories?

    Some categories for third-country nationals permits include (all subject to conditions):

    • highly skilled employees, leading personnel, employees with special profiles;
    • transfer of senior executives and highly qualified employees within a transnational group;
    • trainees;
    • ancillary activities for individuals undergoing education at a Swiss university.

    3.5 If permission to work or stay is needed, how long does the procedure take?

    The duration of the procedure may vary from one canton to another and according to the purpose of the stay, but it is generally counted in months (one to several months).

    Furthermore, pre-application steps might need to be factored in. Subject to exceptions, one of the (restrictive) conditions to be met for a permit application in favour of a third-country national is respect of precedence: third-country nationals may only be permitted to work if, among other conditions, it is proven that no suitable domestic employees or citizens of states with which the AFMP has been concluded can be found for the position. So, before applying for a permit for a third-country national, employers must have carried out serious research and be able to demonstrate that they have not found any Swiss or AFMP state candidate matching the profile.

    3.6 If permission to work or stay is needed, what Government fees would be due for this permission?

    Government fees vary from one canton to another. They are in the region of a few hundred Swiss francs.

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    Permanent residence

    4.1 From when can third-country nationals obtain permanent residence?

    In principle: at least ten years of residence in Switzerland under a short-term or residence permit, the last five years of which have been uninterruptedly under a residence permit (subject to additional conditions: no grounds for revocation and integration of the foreigner). If good integration is demonstrated, a foreigner may obtain an establishment permit after an uninterrupted stay of five years under a residence permit.

    UK nationals may be granted an establishment permit after five years regular and uninterrupted stay in Switzerland.

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    Residence Status

    5.1 What steps could UK nationals still take to secure their residence status?

    Currently:

    • Applying for a residence permit in Switzerland while the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) still applies to the UK (i.e. before the date of a no-deal Brexit or before the end of the transition period if such a transition period is put in place between EU and UK).
    • Applying for family reunification with an EU national if relevant.
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