The United Kingdom (UK) is leaving the European Union (EU) at the end of this year. Therefore, UK nationals will only be able to benefit from the special rules of the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (FZA) between Switzerland and the EU - such as the right to a residence permit - until 31 December 2020. UK nationals who wish to work or live in Switzerland will face much greater legal hurdles from 1 January 2021. The Swiss Federal Council and the government of the United Kingdom are currently negotiating special agreements for simplification, but these are neither known nor ready to be signed.

Legal situation as of 1 January 2021

As of 1 January 2021, UK nationals who wish to take up gainful employment in Switzerland for the first time will be subject - like all citizens of countries that are not members of the EU or EFTA - to the much stricter Federal Act on Foreign Nationals and Integration (AIG). Gainful employment in Switzerland is only permitted with a permit. The decision on approval is the competence of the labor market authorities and migration offices. Starting work before a permit is issued is prohibited (unlike for EEA citizens).

There are no changes for UK citizens who already have a valid residence permit in Switzerland by 31 December 2020. They can stay in Switzerland under their existing permit.

Requirements for the granting of a work permit

  • The activity of the applicant must have a positive effect on the Swiss (and possibly local) economy.
  • Work permits can only be issued to qualified specialists (e.g. managers or scientists).
  • Priority is given to domestic workers. The absence of such persons must be proven by advertisements (print and online media) and a list of any rejected candidates (with reasons).

Quotas for UK nationals who are new to work in Switzerland

Work permits for workers from third countries (to which the UK will belong from 1 January 2021) are limited. Switzerland has set a separate quota for UK nationals. For the year 2021, Swiss employers have 3,500 special allocations (2,100 residence permits and 1,400 short stay permits) at their disposal to recruit British specialists.

Procedure for granting a work permit

In comparison to other third country nationals, the rules for UK citizens have been simplified: permits for British citizens are not subject to the federal permit procedure for the time being and are therefore issued exclusively under cantonal supervision. This means that an approval by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) is not required. The cantonal employment offices decide autonomously and forward a positive decision directly to the cantonal migration office.

Ambiguities regarding the priority of Swiss and EEA citizens

It is still unclear whether the priority is given to both Swiss nationals and EEA citizens. The Swiss government has not yet expressed its opinion on this. On 14 December 2020, the SEM will issue directives that will clear up the last ambiguities and probably also answer this question. However, employees of the employment offices assume that Swiss nationals and EEA nationals will have priority over UK citizens.