Swiss Residence Permit

Swiss Residence Permit

Since the 1980s, migration to Switzerland has continued to increase, and as of today, it has the largest 'Potential Net Migration Index' of any nation in the EU.  This means that more potential migrants name Switzerland as their preferred country of residence out of any in Europe.  It is very easy to see why so many migrants choose Switzerland.  Not only does it have a great location at the heart of Europe, but it also has one of the best road and rail networks anywhere in the world, and it enjoys robust prosperity and high levels of life satisfaction.  According to the OECD Better Life Index, Switzerland performs very well in many measures of well-being relative to most other countries in the Better Life Index. Switzerland ranks above the average in subjective well-being, jobs and earnings, income and wealth, health status, social connections, environmental quality, education and skills, work-life balance, housing, and personal security.  It also has strong educational and employment opportunities, making it a highly desirable destination for migrant workers and students.

Under the Swiss immigration system, EU nationals and those from the Schengen area can enter and stay in Switzerland for up to 90 days without needing a visa.  But if you plan to stay for more than 90 days, you will require a Swiss residence permit regardless of your nationality.  In this article, we will outline the different types of residence permits and who needs to apply.

Before we proceed, it is important to understand that Switzerland is split into 26 regions called 'cantons'.  Each of these has its own cantonal immigration office.  Your local cantonal immigration office will be able to answer any questions you have and will provide information on applying for a residence permit.

What Are The Different Types of Residence Permit in Switzerland?

There are a number of different types of Swiss residence permit; these are split into two categories.  One category is for EU and EFTA (the EFTA refers to countries which are part of the European Free Trade Association, including Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland), the other category is for other countries (referred to as third-states).

The EU and EFTA residence permit types are:

  • Permit L EU/EFTA (short-term residence permit)
  • Permit B EU/EFTA (residence permit)
  • Permit C EU/EFTA (settlement permit)
  • Permit Ci EU/EFTA (residence permit with gainful employment)
  • Permit G EU/EFTA (cross-border commuter permit)

The residence permit types available to third-state nationals are:

  • Permit B (residence permit)
  • Permit C (settlement permit)
  • Permit Ci (residence permit with gainful employment)
  • Permit G (cross-border commuter permit)
  • Permit L (short-term residence permit)
  • Permit F (provisionally admitted foreigner)
  • Permit N (permit for asylum seekers)
  • Permit S (person in need of protection)

Given the range of residence permits available, it is essential to ensure that you choose the correct route.  If you are unsure, it is recommended that you speak to immigration solicitors that specializes in EU Law or to migration authority in the canton in which you plan to reside.

While there are a number of options to choose from, the most commonly used are:

  • Permit L (short-term residence) - valid for up to one year and can only be renewed for one more year.  It is possible to work on a short term contract on this permit.
  • Permit B (which is used for initial or temporary residence) - valid for five years for EU/EFTA nationals, or one year for non-EU/EFTA nationals.  It is possible to work and study on this permit for more than one year.
  • Permit C (permanent residence) - available to non-EU/EFTA nationals after ten years of continuous residence in Switzerland, and EU/EFTA citizens after five years of continuous residence in Switzerland.
  • Permit G (allows workers to commute from another country) - given the geographical location of Switzerland, many workers reside in countries on its border and commute across for the purposes of work.  This permit allows those workers to pass over the border.
  • Permit N (for asylum seekers) - this permit allows asylum seekers to remain in Switzerland while their application is being considered by the authorities.

When Do I Need to Apply for a Residence Permit?

Under Swiss immigration law, you will need to apply for a residence within two weeks of your arrival in Switzerland.  The application will be made at your local Residents Registration Office in the canton in which you want to reside.  The full list of Cantonal immigration and labour market authorities can be found online.

Is It Possible to Extend a Residence Permit?

Yes, it is usually possible to extend a Swiss residence permit, although the policies which apply vary between cantons.  In some cases (as with short-term Permit L) there is a limit to how many times you can extend your residence permit.  In this situation, you may then be able to apply for a long-stay residence permit. 

When you are ready to renew your residence permit, it is important to be prepared.  You should submit your extension application at your local immigration office no less than two weeks before it is due to expire.  You can, however, submit your application for an extension up to three months before it is due to expire.  If you do not extend your permit early, it is always advisable to check with your cantonal immigration office to ensure that you are eligible to extend, and if you are not, what your available options are. 

Wrapping up

Switzerland offers a wealth of opportunities for short-term and long-term migrants alike.  If you are planning to take your family members with you, it is recommended that you speak with the cantonal immigration office to check on the permit requirements for doing so.  For example, in some cases, it is necessary to provide proof of language competence in the national language spoken in your place of residence.  If you are unsure of the visa type you should apply for, it is always important to check before submitting an application.  We wish you and your family the very best with your plans to stay in Switzerland.

Related article

 Requirements  for a Schengen Visa: Application Procedures


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