Switzerland extends professional services deal with the UK

Switzerland and the UK have extended a deal that allows professionals special access to each other's markets until the end of 2025.

A person working on a laptop.
A person working on a laptop. Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Under the deal, Swiss and British service providers are given easier access to each others’ markets. 

“The Services Mobility Agreement (SMA) maintains ease of access for service providers following the end of the free movement of persons between Switzerland and the UK with the latter’s withdrawal from the EU,” said a statement from the economic department at the Swiss Federal Council.

The deal “regulates market access and temporary stay for service providers such as business consultants, IT experts and engineers”, said the Council, adding that it “meets a need” in the Swiss economy. 

The temporary agreement, which came into force on January 1st 2021, is to be extended until the end of 2025. 

Under the deal, Switzerland grants UK professionals seeking to provide a service in Switzerland access for a maximum period of 90 days per calendar year.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED – What is Switzerland’s deal with the EU?

According to the Swiss Federal Council, more than 4,000 British suppliers have used the 90-day market access option to provide services in the Swiss market since 2021.

The deal also gives Swiss exporters “preferential access” to the UK market in over 30 service sectors, according to the Swiss Federal Council. 

In many sectors, service providers no longer need to prove they hold a university degree or have experience in order to be admitted to the UK market.

Meanwhile, some Swiss higher vocational education and training qualifications are now recognised by the UK as equivalent to a university degree. The UK has also simplified some of the procedures for obtaining a business visa.

According to the British government, Switzerland is the UK’s “sixth largest export market for services, worth over £12 billion in exports last year”.

In a statement the UK government said the deal provided certainty for firms in both countries. 

“Moving skilled people between countries is vital to services exports, facilitating the delivery of projects and face to face conversations that help to win new clients and get deals done,” said the UK government in a statement.

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Is a job offer enough to work in Switzerland as a non-EU/EFTA citizen?

If you come from a non-EU/EFTA state and would like to work in Switzerland, you will need to meet a range of admission requirements to be granted access to the Swiss employment market.

Is a job offer enough to work in Switzerland as a non-EU/EFTA citizen?

When it comes to hiring talent from outside its borders, Switzerland follows a dual system which favours workers from EU and EFTA states under the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons.

Each year, Switzerland admits only a limited number of highly qualified employees from other countries – known as third states – to the labour market.

According to the State Secretariat for Migration, experience has shown that workers with a degree from a university or an institution of higher education with several years of professional work experience under their belt have better long-term professional and social integration prospects than those with lower qualifications.

But does a job offer alone suffice to work in Switzerland as a non-EU/EFTA state citizen?

In short, no.

As exciting as the prospect of a new life in Switzerland may be, a job offer itself is sadly not enough to make you eligible for a work permit in Switzerland if you are a citizen of a non-EU/EFTA country.

In Switzerland, the admission of non-EU and non-EFTA state nationals is limited with the Federal Council determining the quota for permits on an annual basis. in 2023, the government has issued 8,500 permits for third-country employees (with the exception of UK nationals — see below).

Your employer will need to respect the principle that Swiss and EU/EFTA workers enjoy precedence when it comes to employment.

Your employer will need to apply one for you by showing that your qualifications and experience are in the best interest of the country’s economy.  in addition, they must prove that work  salary conditions are met prior to you being granted a permit.

What if I am a UK citizen?

Since January 1st, 2021, UK nationals are no longer citizens of the EU and are therefore subject to the same rules that apply to third-country nationals, including quotas.

However, they have a separate quota contingent — 3,500 permits set aside just for them. 

Are there any exceptions to the admission requirements?

Yes, in some cases legally regulated exceptions can be made that may allow you to work in Switzerland even if all admission criteria are not met.

For instance, senior managers or specialist staff being transferred by an international company may be allowed to work in Switzerland.

Similarly, employees in training as well as those are hoping to move for an internship or further education may also be allowed to work in Switzerland, so long as they work for a multi-national company (knowledge transfer) or are placed there (compulsory placement) while studying.

Those pursuing doctoral and post-doctoral studies in Switzerland may also seek employment in the country, though whether or not they can remain here after graduating is still being worked out on the legislative level.

Additionally, au-pairs and from non-EU/EFTA states between 18 and 25 years old may also move to Switzerland for up to 12 months.

What if I am a family member hoping to work in Switzerland?

If you are a family member of a Swiss national or an individual with a residence permit, you will not need to go through an additional permit process to take up employment or become self-employed.

Do I need a visa and residence permit to work in Switzerland if I already have a permanent residence permit for an EU/EFTA state?

If you are a citizen of a non-EU/EFTA state and hold a permanent residence permit for that state, you will still need to meet the admission conditions as everyone else who enters Switzerland directly from a third state country.

In Switzerland, being in possession of a permanent residence permit for an EU/EFTA state as a non-EU/EFTA citizen does not automatically grant you entrance to access to the Swiss employment market.

Generally, all non-EU/EFTA nationals will need an entry visa which can be obtained from Swiss authorities in your country after you have been granted a residence permit.

Although there are a couple of exceptions to this that are worth knowing about.

Can my employer second me to Switzerland for an indefinite period?

No, your employer may not second you to a job in Switzerland for an indefinite period.

However, if you are an employee of a corporation that has its registered office in an EU-27/EFTA state, your employer can in fact second you to a job in Switzerland for up to 90 days per calendar year.

In this case you will need to have previously been integrated long-term in the regular employment market of either an EU or EFTA member state, that is you must have a temporary or permanent residence permit for at least 12 months.

Your placement in Switzerland will then be governed by the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) between the EU and Switzerland and must be reported to the Swiss authorities.

If you are seconded to work in Switzerland for up to 90 days from a non-EU/EFTA state on the basis of the AFMP, you will not need a visa for your stay.

You will, however, be required to have on hand a valid, recognised travel document as well as a valid residence permit that has been issued by a Schengen member state.