EXPLAINED: What’s the difference between permanent residence and Swiss citizenship?

EXPLAINED: What's the difference between permanent residence and Swiss citizenship?
Once you leave Switzerland, your permit will expire. Photo by AFP
The ‘Settled Foreign Nationals’ C-permit grants sweeping rights to its holders. But is it as good as a Swiss passport?

What is the permanent residence permit and who is eligible for it?

According to the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), citizens of 16 EU countries and EFTA nationals “are granted settlement permits pursuant to treaties or reciprocal agreements after five years’ regular and uninterrupted residence in Switzerland”.

SEM added that Cyprus, Malta, the EU-8 member states, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia, are excluded, as no such treaties exist.

UK citizens who became permanent resident before Brexit, can keep their C-permits indefinitely.

How to apply for Swiss citizenship: An essential guide

Foreigners from ‘third nations’ can apply for permanent residency after ten years of living continuously in Switzerland under the B or L permit.

What rights does the C-permit give?

Unlike ‘lower’ type of permits – such as L for ‘short-term residents’ and B for ‘resident foreign nationals’ – which are regulated by various conditions and restrictions – those who have a C-permit enjoy almost the same rights as Swiss citizens.

Among them are unrestricted access to employment, being able to change jobs or cantons of residence, setting up own businesses, buying real estate without any restrictions, and having access to educational grants.

READ MORE: EU immigration: Switzerland’s foreign workers in numbers 

So is a C-permit equivalent to Swiss citizenship?

Many people think so, which may explain why only a small percentage of permanent foreign residents get naturalised — just over two percent, according to research by the University of Neuchâtel.

But a C-permit does have certain limitations.

For instance, the permit is valid indefinitely, as long as its holder doesn’t leave Switzerland permanently.

But what happens if you decide to go back to your home country?

With a Swiss passport you have the right to come back any time. But if you leave the country for longer than six months as a C-permit holder, you will lose your permanent resident status.

If you do eventually come back, you will have to go through all the time-consuming steps of re-applying for a new permit.

However, there are ways to avoid this.

C-permit can be kept valid for up to four years if you are leaving Switzerland for professional reasons or to further your education. In such cases, you can put your permit on hold until you return.

To do this, you must submit a request for a temporary suspension of the permit to your cantonal authorities at least 30 days before your departure date.

Perhaps the biggest drawback of having the permanent residence status rather than full citizenship, is that you don’t have the right to vote — though some Swiss cantons and municipalities allow foreigners to do so. 


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