Due to its high quality of life, work opportunities, education, better healthcare, and even its scenic nature, Switzerland is a very popular country to immigrate to. Only in 2018, over 140,000 people immigrated to Switzerland overall, including both EU/EFTA and non-EU/EFTA nationals.
Switzerland immigration policies and conditions differ, however, depending on what nationality you are.
Moving to Switzerland is far easier for EU/EFTA citizens, who have no quota restrictions, than it is for non-EU/EFTA citizens who are subject to annual quota restrictions.
Switzerland Immigration for EU/EFTA Citizens
Switzerland is not part of the EU (European Union), but it does enjoy a lot of its benefits due to its participation in the EFTA (European Free Trade Association).
The EFTA countries (Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) are joined with the EU through the EEA (European Economic Area), and as such, there is free movement and a free market between all of the member countries on those agreements.
The Freedom of Movement Act allows EU/EFTA citizens to move to Switzerland freely and enjoy the same benefits in regards to work, residence, and treatment. EU/EFTA citizens do not need a visa for entering Switzerland, but they do need to register and apply for a Swiss residence permit if they want to live there long-term (more than three months.)
Furthermore, Switzerland is also part of the Schengen area, which consists of 26 countries that have established visa and border control-free travel between them. Citizens of Schengen countries can also move to Switzerland without a visa but have to apply for a residence permit for stays exceeding three months.
There are no restrictions on how many EU/EFTA/Schengen citizens can immigrate to Switzerland and obtain a residence permit annually. Some restrictions may apply, however, to newer EU-countries, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania.
When it comes to non-EU citizens, different and stricter rules apply.
Switzerland Immigration for non-EU/EFTA Citizens
Switzerland is attempting to curb the number of non-EU/EFTA immigrants it receives every year.
To that end, it has imposed strict annual limitations in regards to how many residence and work permits it grants to non-EU/EFTA citizens.
Furthermore, if you are not an EU/EFTA citizen, you will most likely need to apply for a Swiss long-stay (national) visa to be allowed entry to the country in the first place. Only after you receive your long-stay visa, you can enter Switzerland and proceed to apply for a Swiss residence permit.
How to Move to Switzerland?
To move to Switzerland you must go through these two steps:
- Apply for either a Swiss work visa, study visa or family visa.
- Get the appropriate residence permit.
- Get the Swiss C Residence Permit (the permanent residence permit).
Applying for a Swiss Long Stay Visa
The most common reasons people immigrate to Switzerland is for work, studying, or joining a family member/spouse. As such, you will have to apply for the appropriate visa before moving to Switzerland.
- The Switzerland Work Visa is for immigrants who want to take up work as employees in Switzerland. You will normally need a work contract with a Swiss employer before you can apply.
- The Switzerland Student Visa is for foreigners who have been admitted into a Swiss educational institution. You need to have a certificate of enrollment before you can apply.
- The Switzerland Family Reunion Visa is for foreigners who want to move to Switzerland to join a family member (spouse or parent) who is a permanent resident or citizen of Switzerland.
Each visa has its own conditions, requirements, and restrictions.
Obtaining a Swiss Residence Permit
After receiving your Swiss long-stay visa (for non-EU/EFTA nationals) the next step towards immigrating to Switzerland is getting your residence permit.
Everyone has to apply for a residence permit if they want to move to Switzerland, even EU/EFTA nationals.
You apply for a residence permit at the cantonal immigration office of the canton you want to immigrate to. Switzerland consists of 26 cantons who are responsible for issuing residence permits and work authorisation to the immigrants who want to take up residency in that particular canton.
You must apply for a residence permit within 14 days of entering Switzerland.
Typically, immigrants who want to move to Switzerland for the first time will be issued one of the following residence permits:
This is a Swiss permit for short-term residence, valid for up to one year. It can be renewed, but only to a maximum of 24 months.
The Swiss L Permit is issued to immigrants who move to Switzerland to work in a specific job or company. If you have the L permit and wish to change jobs, you may not receive a new permit.
The Swiss B Permit is for initial or temporary residence. It is issued for up to five years to EU/EFTA nationals, and for one year for non-EU/EFTA nationals. It can be renewed as needed.
It is called the initial or temporary residence because after having lived in Switzerland for 10 consecutive years with a B Permit, you can apply for a Swiss Permanent Residence Permit (Permit C).
Swiss Permanent Residency and Citizenship
After you have lived in Switzerland for 10 continuous years, you will be eligible to apply for a Swiss Permanent Residence Permit (C Permit). Once you are a permanent resident, and have lived in Switzerland for 10 years, you can apply to become naturalized as a Swiss citizen. Previously, the required residency period before becoming eligible for naturalization was 12 years.
You may be eligible to apply for Swiss permanent residence or citizenship earlier in particular cases. For example, if you are the spouse of a Swiss national or a second generation child resident.
If you are an EU/EFTA national, you can apply for permanent residence or citizenship after only 5 years.
Both Swiss permanent residence and citizenship offer a lot of the same benefits. For example, you will no longer have any restrictions when it comes to employment – you can work for whoever you want and change jobs as you like. You can buy property without restriction, open your own business, and live wherever you want in Switzerland. You would also have access to social assistance and welfare benefits, same as a Swiss citizen.
However, the added benefit of being a Swiss citizen is that it gives you the right to vote and to stand for public office, which you do not have a permanent residence permit. But the procedure of becoming a Swiss citizen is longer. Swiss citizenship also brings more obligations, such as having to do military service (applicable only to men aged 18 to 34.)