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SWITZERLAND AND THE UK

EXPLAINED: How can Brits visit or move to Switzerland post-Brexit?

Before Brexit, UK nationals had a nearly unlimited access to Swiss residency and employment. But these rights were curtailed once Britain left the European Union.

EXPLAINED: How can Brits visit or move to Switzerland post-Brexit?
Your rights in Switzerland are now limited. Photo by Ethan Wilkinson on Unsplash

After its withdrawal from the EU in 2020, the UK lost many of the privileges it enjoyed as a member of the 27-nation bloc.

While Switzerland is not part of the EU, it is bound by bilateral treaties with Brussels, like the Free Movement of Persons, to adhere to many of its rules.

Consequently, British nationals face the same restrictions in Switzerland as they do throughout the EU — the kind of rules all other non-EU / EFTA citizens must comply with as well.

For UK citizens, the new regulations entered into force from January 2021.

What does this mean in terms of tourism, work or residency?

If you come to Switzerland as a visitor, you can enter the country without a visa.

The only change from pre-Brexit days is that you now must queue up in the ‘All Passports’ lane rather than the one reserved for Swiss and EU / EFTA nationals.

Anyone with a British passport must use this entrance, even people who live in Switzerland with a B or C permit.

If, however, you are a dual UK / Swiss national, and travel with a Swiss passport or ID, then you can use the automated door intended for citizens of Switzerland. The same applies if you hold (and travel with) a passport of a EU country — in this case, you can use that lane as well.

How long can you stay in Switzerland as a tourist?

As any other foreign tourist, you can remain in the country for up to 90 days in any 180-day period.

Entry rules for UK passport holders have changed. Photo: Pixabay
 

Are you entitled to work in Switzerland?

Yes, but not as freely as before Brexit, and only under certain conditions.

As a non EU / EFTA national, your access to the Swiss labour market (and therefore a Swiss work permit) is much more restricted than in the past.

You will be subject to a system, renewable each year, where the federal government sets a number of quotas intended for third-country nationals and distributes them among cantons.

In 2023, the government released 8,500 quotas for non-European workers: 4,500 for permit B and 4,000 for permit L.

However, UK nationals are privileged in that they receive quotas that are set aside especially for them: 2,100 B and 1,400 L permits.

But just because a certain number of permits are reserved for the Brits, doesn’t mean you will easily get one.

Rules for hiring people from outside the EU / EFTA (including the UK) are strict.

“Authorisations [for work] are issued according to the needs of companies and taking into account the economic interests of Switzerland,” according to State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).

You will only be considered for a job (and permit)  if you are highly qualified, i.e. if you are a manager, specialist or other skilled professional.

“This means, essentially, that you should have a degree from a university or an institution of higher education, as well as a number of years of professional work experience,” SEM said.

And, you must have a job offer in Switzerland — that is, someone who can attest they want to employ you. 

Another condition is that your potential employer must prove there is no suitable person to fill the job vacancy from Switzerland or from an EU / EFTA state.

Outgoing British MEP Jonathan Bulloci holds the Union Jack flag as he and other British pro-Brexit MEPS leave Brussels on January 31, 2020. Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP
 

What if you have financial means to live in Switzerland without working?

It depends on how wealthy you are.

As stated above, non-EU / EFTA nationals are subjected to more restrictive residency rules than their European counterparts.

However, the Swiss are very pragmatic people, especially when it comes to making money.

A little known (except to the financially astute) and rarely used Article 30 of the Federal Aliens Act sets out derogations from the regular, strict admission requirements.

It enables foreigners from outside Europe to move to Switzerland — but only if they are sufficiently wealthy to live here without having to work or resort to welfare benefits.

The law states that in cases of “important public interests” — that is, plenty of money in state coffers— cantons can grant people from outside EU / EFTA states permissions to settle on their territories with a B residence permit. 

Obviously, the sky’s the limit and the amounts depend on where in the country you want to live. But just as an indication, “buying” your way into the residency permit in Geneva costs roughly 312,522 francs in tax revenue per year; 415,000 in Vaud; and 287,882 in Valais.

Add to this a fee you would have to pay a specialised relocation attorney — reportedly at least 50,000 francs — to negotiate a lump-sum tax agreement for you with authorities of the canton where you would like to live.

One thing to keep in mind is that money alone can’t buy you residency.

The law also stipulates that you “must not pose a threat to public security and order or to Switzerland’s international relations”.

Additionally, all foreign nationals living in Switzerland — rich and poor alike — must purchase compulsory health insurance coverage.

Are any UK citizens exempted from post-Brexit rules?

Yes, the above rules don’t apply to British nationals who had moved to Switzerland before the end of the Brexit transition period (December 31st, 2020) — they will retain all their existing rights for residence and employment.

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For members

BREXIT

What Labour’s UK election win could mean for Brits in Europe

The UK's new Prime Minister Keir Starmer has swept into Downing Street in a landslide victory. But how will a Labour government affect Brits in Europe? And what, if anything, will the former 'Remainer' do about Brexit?

What Labour's UK election win could mean for Brits in Europe

The Labour party won a landslide victory in the UK general election on Thursday, bringing an end to 14 years of Conservative party rule.

Labour majority

The new Labour government enters office at a time of high political and economic uncertainty, stagnant growth, public services pushed to breaking point, and Britain’s international reputation tarnished after the Conservative government staggered from calamity to calamity in recent years.

Leading up to the election, the question was not if Labour would win but when, and how big the majority will be. In the end Labour won one of the biggest landslides in British political history, taking 412 seats. 

What the new Labour government does (or more likely, doesn’t) do with its massive majority could have big implications on life for approximately 1.3 million UK nationals living throughout the EU.

Writing exclusively for The Local after his party’s election win, the UK’s new Foreign Secretary David Lammy said Britain would reset its ties with the EU.

“As the new British Foreign Secretary, with our Prime Minister Keir Starmer, this government will reset relations with Europe as a reliable partner, a dependable ally and a good neighbour.”

Lammy added: “We must do more to champion the ties between our people and our culture. Holidays, family ties, school and student exchanges, the arts, and sport (I was of course cheering on England in the Euros…). Thanks to this, our citizens benefit from the rich diversity of our continent.

“If we are to fulfil our ambitions for a reset, we must also improve Britain’s relationship with the European Union… I look forward to seeing Britain reconnect with our European neighbours in the years ahead.”

For many Brits in Europe (as well as those in the UK), the elephant in the room is, of course, Brexit.

Starmer and Labour’s Brexit policy

But what, if anything, does a Labour government actually mean for Brexit and Brits in Europe?

For many, Starmer first came to national prominence in his role as shadow Brexit secretary under former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. He was then an ardent Remainer, and largely responsible for Labour’s eventual position on a second referendum, demanding that the British people deserve a “confirmatory vote” on Europe.

How things have changed. In the build-up to the election Starmer categorically ruled out the idea of rejoining the single market and the customs union, let alone a second referendum on rejoining the EU. He has, however, stated that he will take steps to ease trade barriers and sign a bolstered security agreement with Brussels.

Asked recently by the British press if he could envision Britain re-entering the EU in his lifetime, Starmer was unequivocal. “No. I don’t think that that is going to happen,” he said. “I’ve been really clear about not rejoining the EU, the single market or the customs union – or a return to freedom of movement.”

These comments sparked a certain amount of anger and disappointment among many Brits in Europe. Although they were made before the actual election with Starmer still in campaign mode.

In essence, despite his Remain-backing past, Starmer’s position seems to be that Labour can improve the Brexit deal signed by the Johnson government in January 2020, rather than tear it up or try and force the UK back into the EU on new terms.

For those hoping to rejoin the EU one day, this will be disappointing. Brexit became something of an internal psychodrama for the Conservative party, yet Starmer’s Labour appear to have accepted it as the political framework and don’t dare reopen the debate.

So for the hundreds of thousands of UK nationals living in Europe there will be no return of their freedom of movement and EU citizenship anytime soon.

So will Labour change anything for Brits in Europe?

Labour has been tight-lipped on what its Brexit policy will actually mean in practical terms, but of the few concrete proposals it has outlined so far there are plans to revamp a veterinary deal on animal products to ease on paperwork and border checks, as well as making it easier for qualifications to be recognised abroad.

Labour has also promised to enshrine rights to consular assistance for UK citizens abroad in cases of human rights violations, and to make reciprocal arrangements for touring artists and musicians moving between the UK and EU.

In terms of broad strokes commitments, however, it’s hardly ambitious.

Some economic experts have suggested that rejoining the single market or customs union would significantly boost the British economy, so some hold out hope that the political and economic reality may force the new Labour government to reconsider its position on Europe somewhere down the line.

What about the roll out of the the EU’s new EES border system?

Britons travelling to Europe will face likely travel disruption when the EU finally rolls out its new biometric border checks known as Entry/Exit System or just EES.

There had been much talk of the UK government trying to get the rollout delayed in a bid to avoid or at least postpone the likely chaos. Could Keir Starmer’s government put pressure on the EU to delay EES?

Well the main point to note is that it’s up to the EU when it rolls out EES, not the UK government. It is due to be launched in October or November although an exact date has not been announced. However if there is any delay it will likely be because of concerns on the EU side rather than because of pressure from the UK.

READ ALSO: When will Europe’s new EES passport system be launched?

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