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Non-EU/EFTA PhD or Post-PhD : Will I be entitled to unemployment benefits at the end of my contract?

If you are a non-EU/EFTA national who came to Switzerland for a PhD or Post-PhD and have paid contributions for 12 months or more, you may think that you can continue to stay in Switzerland and claim unemployment benefits. However, this is not always the case.

Conditions for unemployment benefit :

  • You must be totally or partially unemployed;

  • You must have suffered a relevant loss of employment;

  • Be resident in Switzerland;

  • Be aged between 15 and 65;

  • Fulfil the conditions for the contribution period or be discharged;

  • Be suitable for placement;

  • Be in compliance with examination requirements.

What does "being suitable for placement" mean?

  • Have the right to work (valid work permit);

  • Have the ability to carry out a job;

  • Being ready to take up a suitable job or participate in a Temporary Employment Programme (TEP).

When I finish my PhD or Post-PhD contract, will I be entitled to a work and residence permit allowing me to claim unemployment benefit?

A. PhD

Since a PhD is first and foremost considered a student in the eyes of the law, this implies that the stay for the said training is of a temporary nature.

Therefore, at the end of your employment contract as a PhD, even if you have successfully defended your thesis, you will in principle have to leave the country once the purpose of your stay has been achieved (i.e. after your thesis defence).

However, in order to make it easier for graduates of recognised Swiss universities to enter the labour market, the law was changed a few years ago.

PhD can now apply for an L permit for a maximum of 6 months after the end of their studies for a job search. 

It therefore seems legitimate to ask whether the temporary L permit to look for work for up to 6 months allows you to work. In other words, are you or are you not considered to be "suitable for placement" and are you entitled to an unemployment benefit?

This is a very specific question. It requires a precise analysis of your case.

B. Post-PhD

In contrast to PhD students, the key issue for Post-PhD’s is the determination of their status: student or member of staff (worker), depending on when they obtained their PhD :

  • You are considered a student if you obtained your PhD less than 2 years before signing your postdoctoral contract;

  • If you obtained your PhD more than 2 years before signing your postdoctoral contract, you are in principle considered to be a worker. However, there are exceptions to this rule.

1. Student status

Unlike PhDs, Post-PhDs do not benefit from the possibility of applying for a 6-month type L permit to look for work.

Consequently, they are expected to leave Switzerland at the end of their post-doctoral contract (if it is not renewed, of course).

However, there is an exception. If your work permit expires at the same time as your postdoc contract, you can show that you had a legitimate expectation of obtaining a work permit when you registered with the ORP/RAV (unemployment benefits application).

In practice, the trick will be to convince the competent authority of your rapid integration into the local labour market, especially given your highly qualified profile.

To maximise your chances of success, it is strongly recommended that you start sending out job applications that closely match your profile before the end of your contract, in order to increase your chances of securing interviews that could lead to a future job. 

The exception will only be granted if a work permit has been obtained following the signing of an employment contract.

2. Worker status (depends on type of work permit)

  • L work permit

As this permit is temporary and strictly limited to the duration of your employment, you are expected to leave Switzerland at the end of your contract. You are therefore not entitled to extend the permit or to receive unemployment benefits. 

In the event of loss of employment due to financial difficulties on the part of the employer, a change of job or canton (within the same sector of activity and in the same profession) may be considered, provided that the request is duly justified.

Although you are not entitled to unemployment benefits, you may be able to register with the ORP. You must therefore prove that you could have hoped to obtain a work permit when you registered with the ORP/RAV (application for unemployment benefits). This exemption will only be granted if you have obtained a work permit after signing an employment contract.

  • B (limited) work permit

In the case of long-term fixed-term contracts, it is common for a type B work permit to be limited to the duration of the employment contract. In rarer cases, depending on the sector, employer or profession, the permit may also be limited to 12 or 24 months, despite the signing of a permanent work contract. 

In principle, holders of a limited B permit are not entitled to an extension of their permit or to unemployment benefits at the end of their employment contract (the same principle applies as for type L permits).

  • B (unrestricted or unlimited) work permit

This is a permit linked to the signing of an employment contract of indefinite duration (CDI). 

The "unrestricted or unlimited" work permit can be extended if you are entitled to unemployment benefits or if you are participating in a TEP. However, it will not be renewed if you are dependent on social assistance.

Each person's profile and skills are different. It is therefore highly recommended that you consult a specialist to analyse your chances of successfully renewing your permit and receiving unemployment benefit.

Fiorella Deshogues

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