April 25, 2013

On April 24, 2013, Switzerland’s Federal Council announced that, over the next 12 months, it will invoke its “safeguard clause” by imposing work permit quotas and, in turn, reducing the number of residence permits to nationals from a combined total of 28 European Economic Area (EEA) countries.

What’s Changed?

As a follow-up to last April’s Global Brief, the Federal Office of Migration (FOM) is not only keeping “B”work permit quota restrictions on nationals of eight EU-member States* (aka “EU-8” countries) but also may extend “B” permit quota restrictions to nationals from other EU-17 member states plus three European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries**. These combined country categories basically comprise the EEA community.

New National Quotas

After May 1st, the quota for “B” permits (five-year residence permits) will be kept in place for nationals of the EU-8 states and, as of June 1st, the FOM may also apply “B” permit quotas for nationals of additional EU-17 + EFTA states.

The new, national quotas are estimated at approximately 2,180 “B”permits for the EU-8 states and 53,700 “B” permits for EU-17 + EFTA states and will apply for the next 12 months.

Nationals of Bulgaria and Romania are under a separate quota system. Until further notice, their quota system remains in force until May 31, 2016.

Immediate Impact

In practice, these “safeguards” are not viewed as a major, adverse impact on skilled EU-national migrants applying for work authorization in Switzerland.

The main concern is that certain assignees may not receive the preferred five-year “B” permit and may receive a shorter term “L” permit (usually valid for an initial one-year period with a single, one-year extension available). Generally, the perceived consequence for short-term “L” permit holders is possibly more difficulty in settling in to daily life in Switzerland, such as the ability to open a bank account or executing leases.

Under the clause, the privilege extended to EU-8 and EU-17 + EFTA nationals is their ability to enter Switzerland as visitors and regularize status in country, provided they are paid locally in Switzerland. For those assignees remaining on home company payroll, the ability to regularize status may be limited to entering Switzerland only after the work permit has been granted.

For Bulgarian and Romanian nationals, a work permit application must be approved in Switzerland prior to their entry to regularize status.

What Happens to the “Safeguard Clause” in Mid-2014?

For nationals of the EU-8 and EU-17 + EFTA member status, it is anticipated that this safeguard clause will only be valid for another 12 months and, according to Swiss law, expire by May 31, 2014.

Please note, however, that as immigration has become a more intense political discussion within Switzerland, there is concern that the Swiss could hold a national referendum in 2014 to again further extend the clause.

The political downside to further extension of the clause would require the Swiss Government to re-negotiate its contract of “freedom-of-movement” privileges with the EEA and also reconsider other important aspects of doing business with the EEA business community, particularly with regard to Swiss banking and taxing laws.

Readers are again reminded that, unless otherwise indicated, the clause for Bulgarians and Romanian nationals remains in place until May 31, 2016.


While the overall quota numbers are issued at the federal level by the FOM, companies are reminded that distribution of “B” and “L” permits is by each Canton.

Each Swiss Canton has its own discretion to determine how their quotas will be adjudicated and applied. Therefore, whether an assignee is granted a “B” or “L” permits in the Canton of Z├╝rich may differ in availability in the Canton of Geneva.

For nationals from these EEA countries, it is recommended that companies work with their Swiss immigration supplier to determine the Canton of work and the availability of “B” or “L” permits during the course of the next 12 months.

Caveat Lector | Warning to Reader

This is provided as informational only and does not substitute for actual legal advice based on the specific circumstances of a matter. Readers are reminded that Immigration laws are fluid and can change a moment’s notice without any warning. Please reach out to your local Pro-Link GLOBAL specialist should you require any additional clarification. This alert was prepared by Glenn Faulk, Senior Manager, Knowledge Management. Pro-Link GLOBAL worked with our PLG | KGNM Correspondent Office in Switzerland to provide you this update.

*EU-8 Member States – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

**EU-17 and EFTA Member States – Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Spain, the United Kingdom.

Information contained in this Global Brief is prepared using information obtained from various media outlets, government publications and our KGNM network of immigration professionals. Written permission from the copyright owner and any other rights holders must be obtained for any reuse of any content posted or published by Pro-Link GLOBAL that extends beyond fair use or other statutory exemptions. Furthermore, responsibility for the determination of the copyright status and securing permission rests with those persons wishing to reuse the materials. Interested parties are welcome to contact the Knowledge Management Department (km@pro-linkglobal.com) with any additional requests for information or to request reproduction of this material.