How to get a Swiss work permit (1/2)

Last Updated 03/08/2023

Your company is doing great, deals and clients are coming in, your team is efficient and ambitious, and you now want to hire new talented employees. After spending hours looking for the right person to add to your team, you finally found the gem, with both the necessary qualifications and the right mindset for your company. The only problem: This person needs a work permit to work for your company in Switzerland.

This two-part series will tackle the following questions:

  • Which work permit does a prospective employee need?
  • What is the application process?
  • What are the requirements to fulfill?

This first article will focus on the system as a whole as well as on work permits for a period of up to 4 months while the second article will outline the specific requirements and proceedings related to L and B work permits for both EU/EFTA and third-country nationals.

The system overview: What is a work permit and why is it hard to get one?

There are seven different types of permits issued in Switzerland. They range from provisional admission authorizations (F permit) to residence permits (C permit) through short- and long-term work permits (L and B permits) as well as special permits for asylum seeker (N permit), cross-border workers (G permit), and diplomacy members (Ci permit).

When applying for a work permit, the first difficulty comes from the various and scattered legal sources which can be sorted into three main regimes:

  • Work permits for a duration of up to 4 months
    • Posted Workers Act (in French: LDét / in German: EntsG)
    • Ordinance on the admission, stay and exercise of gainful employment (in French: OASA / in German: VZAE)
  • Work permits for EU/EFTA citizens
    • Foreign Nationals and Integration Act (FNIA)
    • Ordinance on the admission, stay and exercise of gainful employment (in French: OASA / in German: VZAE)
  • Work permits for non-EU/EFTA citizens
    • Bilateral Agreement on the free movement of persons between the EU and Switzerland (AFMP)

With regards to the work permits, there are two variables to examine in order to determine which permit to apply for:

  • The desired duration of the work permit
    • As a rule, the desired duration is based on the employment contract.
    • If the desired employment will last less than 4 months, there are several options of short working stays that will be examined in detail hereinafter.
    • If the duration of the potential employment will last more than 4 months, an L or a B permit is required.
  • The nationality of the permit seeker
    • If the permit seeker person is an EU/EFTA national, the AFMP regime will apply and the person in question will have an actual right to be granted a work permit.
    • If the person is a third-country national, the ordinary system with its harder requirements and quotas will apply.

Another issue related to work permits is the introduction of quotas to limit the number of work permits that each Canton can issue to third-country nationals. This allocation is determined on a proportional basis in order not to favor any of the Cantons.

Overall and for 2021, the Cantons can issue 2000 L permits and 1250 B permits. In addition, the Swiss Confederation keeps a reserve of 2000 L permits and 3250 B permits to issue on a case-by-case basis on request by Cantons. In practice, it can be less cumbersome to be granted these reserved work permits in some Cantons than in others. Here’s a table summing up the repartition for 2021 (details can be found on annex 1 OASA /VZAE):

Short term work permit (L)Long term work permit (B)
Swiss Confederation20003250
Basel City7547
Other Cantons796497

Work permits for a duration of up to 4 months

Working stay of up to 8 days per calendar year

Any person, independently from his/her nationality, may work in Switzerland for a duration of up to 8 days per calendar year without requiring any kind of prior registration or approval.

Please note that any person needing a visa to come in Switzerland will still have to be granted such an entry visa to benefit from this so-called 8-days-rule.

Working stay for a duration between 8 and 90 days

EU/EFTA nationals have to register online for any assignments for which they will spend more than 8 days and less than 90 days over a 12 months period in Switzerland. Posted workers from non-EU/EFTA countries can also benefit from this possibility if they have been working for at least 12 months in an EU/EFTA country prior to the assignment in Switzerland.

The registration is usually made by the employer and must be made at least 8 days before the start of the assignment in Switzerland. The employer must also comply with the requirements regarding minimum salary as per art. 2 LDét / EntsG.

Regular non-EU/EFTA nationals cannot benefit from this registration process and must apply for a work permit for a duration of up to 4 months or for a regular L permit.  

Working stay for a duration between 90 days and 4 months

This short-term work permit is issued without quotas by the respective Cantonal labor authority to any person fulfilling the salary and working conditions requirements of art. 2 LDét / EntsG.

Non-EU/EFTA nationals must have been working for their employer for at least 12 months in order to be granted such a permit. They must also respect the maximum stay granted by the Schengen Agreement which is 90 days spent in Switzerland over a 120-days timeframe.

In practice, authorities also grant a shorter version of this permit to facilitate business. This permit is granted under the same conditions as the 4-months work permit but for a period of 120 days within a 12-month timeframe. While in Switzerland, the employee must keep track of the days spent in Switzerland.

Key points and next steps

If you want to apply for a work permit, you will have to know the nationality of the prospective employee, because this will define the applicable system and the requirements to fulfill.  You will also have to know the location where the future employee will work as you will have to address your application to the respective Cantonal labor authority.

Finally, you will have to know the duration for which you intend to hire the future employee as the employment contract will determine which permit the employee should apply for. As outlined above, the system is quite flexible for work permits of a duration of up to 4 months and the application can either be made online or via forms usually accessible on the website of the competent cantonal authority.

If you intend to apply for a work permit for more than 4 months, please see our next article which dives deeper into the proceedings to undergo and the requirements to fulfill when applying for an L or a B work permit, both for EU/EFTA and for third-country nationals.

Yoann Garraux

By Yoann Garraux

Legal Analyst


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