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Brexit and Switzerland: An update

Posted bySpencer Trigg
Published on 15 March 2019

Switzerland has very close ties with the EU and the UK. To enable the continuation of the relationships with both entities, though in particular with the UK, the Swiss Federal Council has issued some statements concerning Brexit.

  • In the case of an orderly Brexit, the UK’s exit from the EU will be followed by a transition period, currently expected to last until 31 December 2020. During that period, all the bilateral agreements that Switzerland has with the EU will continue to apply to the UK, including the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons. UK citizens arriving in Switzerland during the transition period can move to Switzerland under the terms of that agreement.
  • In the case of a no deal-Brexit, the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons will cease to apply to UK citizens on 29 March 2019. Hence, UK citizens moving to Switzerland in order to live, work and study there will in principle have to comply with the relevant Swiss legislation for third country nationals. As a temporary measure, the Swiss government has decided to introduce a separate quota applying from 30 March to 31 December 2019, allowing 3,500 British citizens to work in Switzerland. In addition, talks are under way on a possible bilateral agreement between Switzerland and the UK that would permit derogation from the admission requirements contained in the relevant Swiss legislation for a temporary period.

This separate quota is intended to mitigate the consequences for the economy and the cantons of an abrupt change in the status of British citizens from persons benefiting from freedom of movement to third country nationals. The maximum numbers for British citizens should apply from 30 March until 31 December. In reaching its decision, the Federal Council took account of the views of the cantons, the needs of the economy and the requirements of Article 121a of the Federal Constitution, which deals with immigration and which came into force on 9 February 2014. 

  • In the current year, it should be possible to recruit a total of 3,500 workers from the UK: 2,100 residence permits and 1,400 short-stay permits. This will guarantee the flexibility that the Swiss economy needs. The cantons will be notified on a quarterly basis of the maximum numbers they are allowed to admit. The permits for British citizens will not be subject to the consent procedure for the time being and will be issued by the cantons.This measure takes account of the exceptional circumstances in relations with the UK and is a transitional solution that will apply until future migration arrangements have been clarified.

Whilst it is positive news that that the Federal Council has made these high-level arrangements, the communication and administrative processes between the Federal and Cantonal authorities may prove to cause uncertainty and delay in the granting of permits. So, if you are planning to take up a new assignment in Switzerland, check with the canton first to ensure they have sufficient permits!

For more insights on how Brexit might impact business round the world, take a look at our latest blogs.