What is the change? The three major economic cantons of Basil, Geneva and Zurich have asked the Swiss legislature to increase the number of work permits allowed for non-European nationals. The current annual quotas are 3,000 B permits (for employment longer than one year) and 4,500 L permits (for employment lasting four months to one year).

What does the change mean? The cantons argue that the current low quotas inhibit their economic competitiveness and create uncertainty for companies that need to access non-European professionals, especially in innovative fields like information technology, finance, pharmaceuticals, life science and green technology industries.

  • Implementation time frame: Ongoing.
  • Visas/permits affected: B permits and L permits.
  • Who is affected: Companies sponsoring non-EU/EFTA skilled workers for work permits.
  • Business impact: The demand is an indication that governments at the cantonal level are publicly advocating for an increase in federal quotas to assist companies in accessing international talent due to concerns about economic competitiveness and decisions by employers to move their operations because of immigration restrictions on high-skilled foreign labor.

Background: For the year 2015, the Federal Council lowered the quotas by nearly 25 percent from 8,500 (combined B and L permits for non-EU/EFTA nationals) to 6,500. After a shortages of work permits ensued, the legislature decided to raise the annual quota by 15 percent to 7,500 for 2017. However, shortages persist, and the cantonal quarterly allocation in Geneva, Zürich and Basel-Stadt was exhausted in the first quarter of this year.

On Aug. 29, Basil-City, Geneva and Zurich issued a public request asking the Federal Council to:

  • Restore quotas on L and B permits to 2014 levels.
  • Simplify the three cantons’ access to additional work permits from federal authorities when cantonal quotas are exhausted.
  • Allow for quotas to be raised during the year, according to labor needs.

“The limited quota by the Confederation and the current allocation mechanism create uncertainty for the economy and research,” the cantons said in a joint press release. “The low level of quotas forces the cantonal authorities to a more restrictive analysis of the conditions of admission, which is not favorable to the development of our economic place. The risk increases that projects are moved abroad or entities give up coming to Switzerland.”

The cantons noted that the protection of Swiss workers is already encompassed within the requirement that employers complete labor-market testing to ensure that they cannot fill a job with a qualified Swiss national.