First and most importantly, anyone who stays in Switzerland for more than three months must have a residence permit.
A residence permit, also known as a foreigner’s ID card, is issued by the Cantonal Migration Office responsible for your place of residence. Citizens from the EU/EFTA regions do not require a visa for Switzerland due to the free movement of people negotiated in the bilateral agreements.
Many citizens from the EU live in Switzerland, so the application for a permit is usually granted swiftly. However, if the application has not been filled out truthfully or you have a criminal record, your application may be denied. Hence it is important to fill out your application completely truthfully. If you do not do so, you may be subjected to fines. And the fines in Switzerland can be very high, indeed.
Most types of permits require you to submit either a valid matriculation at a university or a work contract. Self-employed people must prove that they are able to support themselves. This is true for pensioners, students and job seekers as well. In most cases, an independent income of 3000 CHF is required.
If you have a large amount of money to bring into the country, it is generally easy to acquire a residence permit. The government is just concerned that it does not have to pay out substantial amounts in social welfare for immigrants. In my opinion, this is perfectly understandable.
There are five different types of foreigner’s ID cards for EU/EFTA citizens:
Cross-border permit G (brown)
Cross-border workers are people who work in Switzerland but live outside the country. They are required to return to their main country of residence at least once a week. Citizens of one of the EU-25 states may live anywhere in the EU and work in Switzerland. The cross-border permit is valid for five years as long as you have a work contract that is either with unlimited validity or valid for at least a year. If the work contract is for under a year, the permit is issued for the period of the contract. You are required to register for work contracts that have a duration of under three months.
Short-term residence permit L (lilac)
Foreigner who are planning to stay in Switzerland whether with or without working for a period of over three months but under a year are issued a L permit. Citizens of the EU-25 states are entitled to this permit and are issued it if their work contract is for a period between three and 12 months. For shorter work stays, you are just required to register. The L permit without working is issued to job seekers from all EU/EFTA countries as long as they can prove that they have sufficient funds to cover their stay.
The lilac L permit (short-term residence permit) is for all foreigners who intend to stay in Switzerland for less than a year, whether their intention is to work, study or absolve an internship.
Residence permit B (light grey)
The B permit is for foreigners who live in Switzerland with or without working for a longer period. The permit is generally valid for five years and is issued if you have either a time-unlimited work contract or a work contract for at least 365 days. The permit is renewed for another five years if the conditions have not changed in the meantime. However, the first time it is extended, it can be limited to a one year extension if you have been unemployed for over 12 consecutive months. EU/EFTA citizens are entitled to a B permit without work if they can prove that they have sufficient funds as well as adequate health and accident insurance coverage.
Third country citizens (non-EU/EFTA are issued with a B permit for one year with renewal for periods of one year until their fifth year of residency whereupon the renewal period generally extends to two years until eligibility for permanent residence (C permit). Criminal acts and dependence on social welfare may lead to the loss of the B residence permit.
Permanent residence permit C (pastel green)
Citizens of EU/EFTA states gain permanent residency after living in the same commune for at least five years. Residency is then for an unlimited period and may not be restricted. It is important to remember that you must have been living not only in the same canton but in the same commune for the required five years before applying. If you move to another commune within the canton, you lose your eligibility for a C permit. The reason given for this is that C permits should only be handed out to „people who have fully integrated“ in the community.
Citizens from third country states (non EU/EFTA) may gain the pastel green C permit after living in Switzerland for at least 10 years.
Residence permit with permission to work Ci (red)
This permit is for family members (spouses and children up to the age of 25) of employees of foreign representations (diplomats) or international organisations such as the UN, NATO and the EU. It is valid only for the duration of the primary permit holder’s employment.
Residence permit for retirees and pensioners
It is possible for retired foreigners to live in Switzerland without working. The following conditions must be met for a permit to be issued. The retiree
- must be at least 55 years old.
- may work neither in Switzerland nor abroad.
- must have adequate funds to cover living costs.
- must have a personal connection to Switzerland
- either through close relatives such as parents, children, siblings or grandchildren that live in Switzerland
- or through a long prior residency in Switzerland.
- must have full accident and health insurance coverage.
People who live in Switzerland without permits are called Sans-Papiers (en: without papers). The actual amount of Sans-Papiers who live in Switzerland is unknown; estimates vary between 80,000 and 300,000. Most Sans-Papiers are employed in positions which require no qualifications and in fields where personnel needs are not covered by Swiss or EU citizens. They may work as cleaners in private households, care for children or old people or work on building sites or farms.
The prevailing view in Switzerland is that people who are in the country illegally should not be „rewarded“ by legalising their status just because they have lived in the country for a long period. Therefore, it is practically impossible for Sans-Papiers to acquire legal residency even they were born and grew up in Switzerland. The three main reasons why people become Sans-Papiers are:
- Most Sans-Papiers come from third country states to Switzerland and do not have the possibility of gaining a legal permit as the requirements to get a permit for “low qualified“ people from these states are very strict. Despite the restrictions, many people, mainly women, move to Switzerland.
- A residence permit is usually tied to a purpose for being in the country such as study, work or marriage. If the reason for issuing the permit is no longer valid (end of study, separation within three years of marriage, etc.), the permission to reside in Switzerland is withdrawn.
- A third group of people who become Sans-Papiers are refugees who are denied asylum and go into hiding in Switzerland.
EU-25 and EFTA countries
The following countries are part of the EU-25:
Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom
The following countries are part of the EFTA:
Liechtenstein, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. EFTA is an acronym for the European Free Trade Association. These countries do not belong to the EU, but have some privileges with the European Union.