Introduction
What is the purpose of the SMA?
GBM service supplier route
What other routes are available to Swiss professionals wishing to work in the United Kingdom?


Introduction

The United Kingdom and Switzerland have agreed to extend the Services Mobility Agreement (SMA) for another three years to continue enabling British and Swiss professionals to work in each other's countries with greater flexibility until 31 December 2025.

This agreement became effective from 1 January 2021 and has been aimed at facilitating the delivery of professional services and contracts in the two countries by UK and Swiss professionals respectively. Its extension to 31 December 2025 will benefit the United Kingdom's professional services industry, including accounting, legal and advertising companies, which make up around 80% of the United Kingdom's gross domestic product.

What is the purpose of the SMA?

The SMA came into force following the end free movement of EU, European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss citizens to the United Kingdom and British citizens to the European Union, EEA and Switzerland as a result of Brexit. Its purpose is to allow:

  • British professionals to work in Switzerland for up to 90 days in a calendar year without a Swiss work permit; and
  • Swiss professionals to deliver contracts in the United Kingdom in a wide range of key sectors for up to 12 months at a time in any 24-month period through preferential access under the global business mobility (GBM) service supplier visa, subject to certain length-of-service, qualification and experience requirements.

The intention of the agreement is to encourage trade between the two countries in the professional services sector and provide certainty and continuity to businesses and the self-employed following the end of free movement. It also aims to facilitate an agreement on comprehensive recognition of professional qualifications of British and Swiss service suppliers.

However, despite the short-term certainty, a long-term free trade agreement with Switzerland has not yet been reached, with negotiations due to be initiated in 2023. The scope of the agreement is yet to be determined, but aside from being likely to include longer-term arrangements for service suppliers, it also represents an opportunity to negotiate bilateral youth mobility and other immigration-related arrangements.

British professionals looking to work in Switzerland for more than 90 days per calendar year (or those from sectors not covered by the SMA) will still be required to apply for a work permit; equally, Swiss professionals wishing to work in the United Kingdom under this agreement are still required to go through the GBM service supplier visa process.

GBM service supplier route

This route is for service suppliers coming to the United Kingdom to provide services in line with one of the international trade agreements to which the United Kingdom is a party.

"Service suppliers" are defined as contractual service suppliers employed by an overseas business, or self-employed independent professionals based overseas.

Under this route, applicants must:

  • have a certificate of sponsorship from a sponsor licensed for the GBM service supplier route, including a confirmation they will be paid at least the national minimum wage;
  • either be filling a job in an occupation listed as eligible for the GBM routes under the Immigration Rules Appendix Skilled Occupations, or have a university degree or equivalent technical qualification, subject to limited exceptions;
  • be working as or for the overseas service provider at the time of application and outside the United Kingdom for at least a cumulative period of 12 months;
  • normally have at least three years' professional experience in the sector in which they will be working; and
  • meet certain requirements regarding being a national or permanent resident of the country in which they are based.

Immigration permission under this route will be granted for up to 12 months if the relevant international agreement being relied on is the SMA.

What other routes are available to Swiss professionals wishing to work in the United Kingdom?

Some other options include:

  • the service providers from Switzerland route under the UK-Swiss Citizens' Rights Agreement for up to 90 days of work in a calendar year, noting that this must be under contractual arrangements commenced by 11 o'clock in the evening (Greenwich mean time) on 31 December 2020 only, and with no restriction on nationality, sector or salary;
  • other GBM routes, such as senior or specialist worker or secondment worker (for further details, see "New Global Business Mobility routes seek to reform immigration and international business");
  • the skilled worker route, if the role meets the skill and salary requirements; and
  • the UK visitor route, which allows certain permitted business activities in the United Kingdom for up to six months at a time. It is important to remember that it is not the length of stay, but the type of activity undertaken that dictates whether a work permit is required. Permitted business activities for visitors include, but are not limited to:
    • attending meetings, conferences/seminars and interviews;
    • negotiating and signing contracts, attending trade fairs and carrying out site visits and inspections;
    • conducting general discussions to secure funding for a project; and
    • providing advice, consulting or troubleshooting, giving training or sharing skills and knowledge on a specific internal project with UK employees of the same corporate group, provided no work is carried out directly with clients.

For further information on this topic please contact Supinder Singh Sian or Despina Stoimenidi at Lewis Silkin by telephone (+44 20 7074 8000‚Äč) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The Lewis Silkin website can be accessed at www.lewissilkin.com.