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Switzerland: Geographic Work Authorization Rules and Limitations

July 24, 2018

Swiss labor authorities limit the scope of employment authorization in many circumstances. While some foreign employees in Switzerland are allowed to provide their services to the entire Swiss marketplace, in many instances, employment is limited to the canton that issued their work permit. Cantons (of which Switzerland has 26, see map below) each get a share of the national work permit quota, which they can allocate based on their own immigration policies and procedural norms.

As a result of this quota system, cantons like Zurich with higher demand for work permits often have higher standards than cantons with lower demand, like Bern. Similarly, cantons adjust their standards as demand for permits change over time, with the general trend being that standards are increasing. This results in a bit of unpredictability. An individual that would have been a strong candidate for a Zurich permit one year, may, 12 months later, due to a change in demand, be a weak work permit candidate who is unlikely to be approved. Local counsel and EIG can provide case by case assessments that take these changes into account.

Limitations on Work Activities

The employee’s status as an EU/EFTA citizen, type of employment, and type of permit will determine the geographic limitation on work authorization. An overview of the limitations is in the chart below.

If the work authorization is limited to a specific canton, the employee’s activities outside that canton are significantly limited. For example, if work authorization is limited to Bern, the employee will not be allowed to provide services outside of Bern, even if it is for another office of the same parent company. Note, however, that their place of residence is not limited. An employee with work authorization for Bern is allowed to live in Zurich (so long as they limit activities as describe below), and vice versa.

If the employee is a Non-EU/EFTA national on assignment with an L permit approved by the labor authority in Bern, but living in Zurich,

  • they may not work from home more than 2 days a week;
  • they may not attend business meeting in Zurich more than 2 days a week.
    • If they do attend business meetings in Zurich, the focus of their activities must be for the benefit of their employer in Bern.

In the case where an employee requires work authorization in multiple cantons, a specific application for special authorization will need to be filed with the labor authority at the second canton. Processing time and approval standards (see above) will vary with each canton.

Summary Chart