How Switzerland will treat UK contractors in a no-deal Brexit

It’s hardly a reassuring amount of time, but UK contractors don’t even have the full four weeks until Britain is due to leave the EU if they want to work in Switzerland post-Brexit, and nor do their clients or agencies, writes Nick Broughton, on behalf of overseas contracting and payroll specialists Sigma Management Services SA.

That’s because on February 13th, the Swiss government announced plans to establish a separate permit quota system for UK nationals if there is a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. With little evidence of an agreement in sight, it’s an announcement we’ve poured over carefully as it affects UK nationals who wish to work in Switzerland from next month and beyond.

The new quota system -- what it is, and when

Crucially, once Britain exits the EU on March 29th, the current EU Free Movement of Persons Agreement (FMOPA) between Switzerland and Britain will cease to exist. And from March 30th, Britain will be treated as a non-EU country.

In anticipation of a no-deal Brexit, the Swiss government say they will introduce a new quota system for UK nationals to work in Switzerland. Note however, UK nationals currently working in Switzerland via a B Permit are unaffected.  

Of interest to others who want to work in the country, the Swiss government say some 3,500 visas will be released exclusively for UK nationals. This release will include 2,100 residence permits (otherwise known as B permits) and 1,400 short stay permits (L permits). The quota system will run from March 30th until December 31st this year. It is unknown at this stage how the visa quota system will work in 2020. 

Act now

As a result of the system being incoming for 2019, we are advising any company that wishes to have UK workers in Switzerland before Brexit D-day to act very fast. In fact, in order to avoid any delay post-Brexit, we recommend that workers must have their permit organised before the beginning of next month -- March 2019.

To reiterate, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Swiss government say permit quotas will apply, meaning any UK national looking to live and work in Switzerland may not be guaranteed a permit. At this stage, it is unknown as to how the permits will be distributed, and whether the application will be based on skillset, job title, level of experience, prior working history in Switzerland and other factors.

In addition, any company that wishes to place a worker may have difficultly towards the end of this year due to decreased permit availability. For now, if a contractor recruitment agency is looking to place a worker in Switzerland for an assignment this year, it’s important for such an agency to finalise the placement during March 2019, and to ensure they inform their clients of the potential issues.

Final thoughts

If you’re a UK national wanting to contract in Switzerland, or an agency or end-user looking to temporarily deploy UK nationals in Switzerland, the onus on you to act now, and with extreme speed will drive home the increasing prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

There is however finally some certainty for UK nationals who are already resident in Switzerland, and for Swiss nationals already resident in the UK, thanks to London and Bern having agreed a citizens’ rights agreement on Monday. The same sort of certainty, including the finer details of the permit quota system, should now be extended to UK nationals who aren’t already in Switzerland, but who want to work and live in what we still consider to be one of the world’s contracting hotspots in 2019.

Wednesday 27th Feb 2019