Entry of Third-Country Nationals with Gainful Employment

A preliminary decision taking into account the current conditions of the labour market must be obtained by third-country nationals before they can take up employment in Switzerland. Such preliminary decision is issued by the Office for Economy and Labour of the Canton of Zurich. The residence permit is subsequently issued by the Migration Office.

Limited admission for third-country nationals

On 1st of November 1998, the so-called dual admission system was introduced with regard to the admission of foreign nationals intending to take up gainful employment in Switzerland. The Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons, in force since 1st of June 2002, facilitates the admission of gainfully employed EU/EFTA nationals, but at the same time limits the admission of third-country nationals to specialized and qualified professionals. Please find further information on residence and gainful employment of EU/EFTA nationals on the respective page.

Permit requirement

Third-country nationals who wish to take up gainful employment in Switzerland need a permit irrespective of the duration of their stay. Applications for such permit are to be submitted to the Office for Economy and Labour (AWA). Please find all the details about preliminary decisions as well as the application form under Economy and Labour. The Federal Council, i.e. the Swiss government, limits the number of first-time short-term permits and residence permits for work purposes by means of quotas defined on an annual basis.

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Yes, you may. Spouses and children (children under the age of 21 or dependent children) of an EU/EFTA national as well as spouses and children of Swiss citizens and persons holding a settlement permit or a residence permit may, irrespective of their nationality, take up gainful employment.

Quotas are quantitative limits defined by the Federal Council on an annual basis. In addition to quotas for short-term permits and residence permits for third-country nationals, service providers from EU/EFTA countries as well as Croatian citizens are subject to quotas.

In 2020, a total of 8,500 specialists from third countries may be recruited. This equals the quota of the previous year and exceeds the quota of 2018 by 500. There are 4,500 residence permits (B) and 4,000 short-term permits (L) available. Please find further information on the website of the Swiss State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).

Application procedure

A step-by-step procedure applies to the application for a work permit.

  1. The application for a work permit must be submitted by the employer to the Office of Economy and Labour (AWA). Please find more information here.
  2. The AWA issues a preliminary decision (work permit) based on the current conditions of the labour market.
  3. If a positive preliminary decision is issued, the AWA will forward it to the Swiss State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) for approval.
  4. If the SEM grants the approval, the respective documents will be sent to the Migration Office, which will review the application for a work permit from a legal perspective. It is possible that a permit is refused if there are grounds for revocation even though a positive preliminary decision was originally issued.  
  5. If all requirements related to the law on foreign nationals are fulfilled, the Migration Office will issue the work permit.
  6. If the applicant is still abroad when the permit is granted, the Migration Office authorizes the respective representation abroad to issue a visa and an entry permit. If no visa is required, the Migration Office will issue an official confirmation to the attention of the employer.
  7. Upon entry into Switzerland, the applicant must register with his/her new place of residence. The respective municipality will arrange for an appointment with the new resident in order to collect his/her biometric data. Please find more details about your biometric residence permit here.
  8. The applicant must present him-/herself personally to the Migration Office for the collection of his/her biometric data.
  9. Once the biometric residence permit is processed and issued, it will be delivered by postal mail to the applicant.

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If a foreign national who resides outside of the Canton of Zurich wishes to take up gainful employment in the Canton of Zurich, the Migration Office will grant an approval to take up employment once a positive preliminary decision is issued. In the reverse case, an approval to take up employment must be obtained by the respective Canton.

Other possibilities to apply for gainful employment

Besides short-term permits related to temporary work permits of less than one year and residence permits related to permanent or multi-year work permits, third-country nationals may also apply for a shorter stay allowing gainful employment in Switzerland. Such short stays of less than four months are not subject to quotas.

Short-term employment

Foreign nationals who were granted an entry permit to take up gainful employment or to provide cross-border services in Switzerland for a total of four months within 12 months do not need to register and are not required to get a foreign national identity card. Instead of a foreign national identity card, the applicant will receive an entry permit. Depending on the country of origin, some applicants also require a visa in addition to the entry permit. Such visa is issued by the Swiss representation in the respective country.


The so-called 8-day-rule stipulates that no short-term permit or residence permit is required if the cross-border service or the temporary gainful employment of a foreign employer does not exceed 8 days within a calendar year. If it has to be expected that the gainful activity will exceed 8 days, an application must be submitted before expiry of the original 8 days. Once the application is submitted, the gainful activity may be continued until the respective permit is granted unless the AWA or the Migration Office issues an order to the contrary.

The 8-day-rule does not apply to the following industries and services. This means that a permit is required in any case before any gainful activity is taken up:  

  • Main construction industry and construction-related industry
  • Gastronomy as well as commercial and residential cleaning services
  • Surveillance and security services
  • Travel industry
  • Erotic services




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