How to Get a Work Permit in Switzerland as a Non-EU-Citizen

This is a blog post about the work permit situation in Switzerland and will show you what you can do to get a  job in Switzerland even if you are not from within the EU/EFTA zone. Many people struggle with this mostly because they don’t know where to start and because many information are missing. I want to fill this gap and give you some ideas about how to find companies who sponsor your work permit application process.


To be able to work in Switzerland, you must have a company that sponsors you. This applies if you are German, Chinese, American, Russian or British. The only difference between somebody from Italy and somebody from Russia to work in Switzerland are the restrictions. The process is similar.

The company that hires you, applies for the work permit. If you are Italian, this can be done in a few minutes. However, if you are from outside of the EU/EFTA zone, this can take a ton of work. The reason is that the company has to provide very detailed information. They need to prove that they were not able to find anybody within Switzerland and the entire EU/EFTA region who fulfills the requirements needed for this job. They have to provide job adverts with publication dates, prove that nobody applied who had the required skills and that they were searching for several weeks or sometimes months and could not find anybody.


As you can see, the workload that the company must invest, is considerable. 


Are you already a member of the Career Network Switzerland on LinkedIn? If not, join it here.


Limited amount of work permits

Another stepping stone is, that there is a limited amount of work permits available. As you can read here, it is very limited and has even been cut in 2012 by a considerable amount.

Therefore it is easier to get a work permit at the beginning of the year instead of at the end. Many companies like Google, IBM, etc. use a lot of those work permits by themselves very quickly at the beginning of the year.

To understand the work permit situation in Switzerland better, go through this presentation below:


Success stories

I am going to tell you three stories where people were able to get a work permit as non-EU-nationals.


1. My Russian friend

The first one is a close friend. He is Russian and decided to relocate to Switzerland middle of this year. After only 4 weeks, he had a job and the company was happy to sponsor the work permit. How did he do that? Well, he attended several events on where he met the founders of a startup company. They talked and he was able to sell them his ideas how he thinks the company could improve. The founders were impressed and invited him for an assessment with his competition. After a full day of all kinds of assessments, he finally got the offer in a very lucrative position where he is able to influence the path that the company takes.


2. The Chinese Telecoms expert

The second story is about a candidate I introduced to one of my clients in Bern a few years ago. He was Chinese and just graduated as a PhD in China, willing to work in Switzerland. The company has people working for them from all over the world, in fact they have close to 20 nationalities across 100 employees. This was one of the reasons why they invited him, even though he was from outside of the EU. After two interviews, the company decided to hire him. After that we had to figure out how to prove that we were not able to find a PhD student in telecommunication and electronics in Europe. Tough call. Luckily, it was such a specific field that it really was close to impossible to find somebody like him in Europe. We provided the permit office with all the documents and it took 2 months until he finally received his work permit.


3. The Romanian IT specialist

The third story happened very recently, where we were able to get a work permit for a Romanian national. The company had an extremely hard time to find exactly what they were looking for in terms of experience. Therefore we widened our search and found the perfect match in Romania. It took close to 2 months to finally get his work permit done.


As you can see, it takes a lot of work, time and sometimes money, to organize work permits for non-EU-citizens. If a company takes on this challenge, there has to be a good reason. Of course, there are many good reasons such as you being absolutely unique in your skills. However, I believe that you might not want to solely count on that but also make sure, the company hires you because of your personality, talents and of course, experience.



HR and internal recruitment

Why should HR or recruitment invest more time and a piece of their budget into the process to get somebody from outside of the EU/EFTA if they can hire the same type of skill from within? Well, usually they won’t. There is no point for them. Their task is clear when they recruit. To find the best matching candidate for the best price with minimum effort.


So how can you get around this issue with HR and recruitment? I think you can only do this if they is extremely desperate and absolutely can’t find somebody they are looking for within the EU/EFTA region. This rarely happens and even if, many rather wait and see if maybe next week, the perfect EU/EFTA candidate will come along.


My solution is much simpler. Connect with the people who will be in your team, who will be your boss and your peers. They will decide if you get hired or not. Make it easier for HR and leave the decision to the hiring manager if they would like to meet you or not. If the hiring manager decides to hire the Russian or Chinese candidate, HR must find a way to organize that work permit and there is always a way.



Recruitment agencies

If you are a non-EU-citizen and not specifically work with an agency that actively supports you in your job search, don’t bother with sending your CV to recruitment agencies if it’s not for a specific opening. If you apply for a specific job, the issue is similar as mentioned in the paragraph above, even slightly more complicated. Only if the client requested that candidates from outside of the EU are welcome, you will stand a chance. This is not the case most of the time.


Unless you find an agency that specifically works with non-EU-candidates, doing the hard work yourself, is a much better alternative.



Work permit agencies

When it comes to organizing your work permit, not all the workload is with the company that hires you. There are specialized agencies who exclusively handle the work permit processes every single day. Of course, they are not cheap but must of the large corporations work with those agencies.

Unfortunately there is not much you can do to get a work permit for Switzerland if you don’t already have an employment contract or are getting married to a Swiss.



The solution

To be able to receive a work permit for Switzerland there are some specific things you can do to enhance your chances.


1. Look out for companies that hire non-EU nationals

Go to LinkedIn and search for people with the same nationality like you. If you find those people working for a company, it is very likely they are open-minded to hire non-EU nationals. Connect with them and ask about how they got the job at this company and where they originally come from.


2. Target international startups

I know that startups are not for everybody but if you like working for dynamic, fast pacing and innovative companies, this might be a great place for you. Startups are much easier to get in contact with, especially with the people who make decisions. The founders or the CEO of a startup is usually much more open to connect with other people and talk to them than the Senior Executives at a large corporation. They might also be more open to discuss the extra effort of going through the work permit application process. Why not giving it a try?

You can find some useful information on and



3. Build relationships first

Before you think about applying for a position at any company, build relationships with the people working there first. Why would you apply for a position at a company you know nothing about? Also when you do this, you lower the barrier of people simply rejecting your application because of work permit issues or your local language skills.

Also, when you build these relationships first, you will be more confident to talk about your intentions to work for this company, which is a very common question from HR in interviews. Furthermore, your chances will enhance significantly to proceed forward in the recruitment process if you are able to drop some names of people you have a real relationship with, even if it’s more effort for the company to request a work permit for you.



4. Gather information


When you made your connections within your target companies and build some solid relationships, you will be able to gather useful information. Find out about their projects, big changes, reorganizations and their business development efforts. Eventually, through these information, you will get to know about job leads as well if you ask the right questions and listen.