Foreigners (Non EU/EFTA) graduated from a Swiss university : quotas' removal

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

On 27 October 2021, the Federal Council put to consultation a bill aimed at removing quotas for applications for work permits from foreign nationals (outside the EU/EFTA) graduates of a Swiss university if the activity is of major scientific or economic interest.


What does a quota mean ? A quota is a maximum annual number of permits (short-term “L” and stay “B”). They are allocated by the Confederation to each canton. The quotas allocated to certain cantons during the current calendar year (2021) are as follows :


  • Vaud: 177 L permits and 111 B permits;

  • Geneva: 144 L permits and 90 B permits;

  • Fribourg: 58 L permits and 36 B permits;

  • Valais: 68 L permits and 42 B permits;

  • Neuchâtel: 42 L permits and 26 B permits;

  • Bern: 238 L permits and 149 B permits;

  • Zurich: 394 L permits and 246 B permits.


The amendment to the law would remove quotas for work permits requests of non EU/EFTA citizens graduated from Swiss universities.


What type of studies are covered ? This applies to graduated students in science, but not only. Graduates of natural, social and human sciences can also claim easier access to the labour market.


When an activity has a predominant economic interest ? When there is a demonstrated need for workforce (shortage of specialists) in the area of activity covered by the training, and the orientation followed is highly specialized and appropriate to the proposed job offer.


What is meant by a Swiss university ? These include universities of higher education, cantonal universities, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (“EPF” in French), universities of applied sciences (i.e. HES and HEP) and university institutions eligible for grants (e.g. the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology “LFEM” in French, the Paul Scherrer Institute “IPS” in French and the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology “EAWAG”).


Which diplomas would qualify for facilitated access ?


A bachelor, master, doctorate and a Master of Advanced Studies (MAS).


Attention : The Certificate of Advanced Studies (CAS), training followed while working, is not considered a diploma from a Swiss university.


Proposed legislative amendment


It is important to mention that foreigners who have graduated from a Swiss university already enjoy easier access to the labour market. Indeed, the principle of priority (workers' priority in Switzerland) does not apply to their applications for work permits.


The new legislative amendment would further open up access to the labour market for this category of foreigners.


In addition, the proposed amendment to the law follows the “Dobler” motion, which is based on the fact that non-EU/EFTA nationals trained in Switzerland leave the country because they have been unable to be recruited due to exhausted quotas. The motion’s author considers this to be a loss for the Swiss labour market, particularly due to the shortage of specialists. This situation should be avoided particularly in the fields of MINT (mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology) and medicine.


The consultation procedure for the bill runs until February 10, 2022.


Compliance with other conditions


Applications for work permits for foreign graduates are still subject to compliance with other conditions, even if the law is amended.


The employer shall :


  • Submit a motivated work permit application;

  • Respect of remuneration and working conditions of the profession, the sector of activity and the canton;

  • The foreigner must have suitable accommodation.


If the foreigner wishes to be self-employed (e.g. by setting up a start-up), it is necessary to :


  • Demonstrate that the financial conditions and operating requirements of the business are met;

  • Demonstrate a sufficient and self-sustaining source of revenue;

  • The foreigner must have suitable accommodation.


This may be a situation in which seeking specialized legal advice would be helpful to both the candidate and the employer.