As a result of the referendum held on 23 June 2016 the United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union. After a long period of uncertainty, the elections of the British House of Commons on 12 December 2019 seem to have cleared the way for a (hard) Brexit on 31 January 2020.
Impact of Brexit on Switzerland’s and UK’s immigration policies
The relations between Switzerland and the UK are today largely based on the bilateral agreements between the EU and Switzerland. These agreements include the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP), which is particularly important in the area of immigration policy. All these agreements will no longer apply to Swiss-British relations after the UK has left the EU and there are two possible scenarios:
If a withdrawal agreement between the EU and the UK is concluded by 31 January 2020, there will be a transition period, which is expected to run until the end of 2020 and may be subject to an extension. During this transition period, the AFMP will continue to apply between Switzerland and the UK, i.e. status quo.
If the UK withdraws from the EU without an agreement and if there is no further extension, then as of 1 February 2020 the AFMP ceases to be effective.
‘Mind the Gap’ strategy
Within the framework for the so-called ‘Mind the Gap’ strategy that the Swiss Federal Council adopted on 19 October 2016 with the aim to safeguard and, where necessary, extend existing mutual rights and obligations, Switzerland and the UK have concluded the following agreements:
1. Provisional agreement of 10 July 2019 on mutual access to the labour market
This agreement will only enter into force in the case of a no-deal scenario and, in principle, it will expire on 31 December 2020. The aim is to provide UK and Swiss nationals with a mutually advantageous labour market admission (different from that of all other non-EU country nationals) and thus “preserve recent historical patterns of labour mobility between Switzerland and the United Kingdom.”
The preferential admission of UK nationals to the Swiss labour market under this agreement can be summarised as follows:
- Temporary waiver of the requirements of professional qualifications, national priority and general economic interest.
- For 2020, a specific quota of 3,500 work permits for UK nationals (2,100 ‘B’ type and 1,400 ‘L’ type permits) was ruled on by the Federal Council on 22 March 2019.
- The salary and employment conditions of UK nationals employed in Switzerland during this time will need to be in accordance with Swiss standards.
This agreement also states that UK nationals may be granted cross-border commuter permits (‘G’ type) if they live in the UK or in an EU/EEA state and commute weekly to Switzerland to work for a Swiss employer – as long as their salary and employment conditions are in accordance with Swiss standards.
2. Agreement on nationals’ rights of 25 February 2019
This agreement ensures legal certainty: all Swiss and UK nationals shall retain their respective residence authorizations, social security entitlements and the recognition of professional qualifications after the UK has left the EU.
What happens after 2020?
Regarding the access to the Swiss labour market after the UK has left the EU and in the event that the ‘Mind the Gap’ strategy framework agreements are not extended, the Swiss National Foreigners Act currently applicable to non-EU nationals would equally apply to UK nationals.
Swiss employers wishing to hire UK nationals will need to file an application with the relevant cantonal authority evidencing the necessity to hire the individual. The salary and employment conditions will have to be in line with Swiss requirements. The approval for a work permit of more than four months will be conditional on the availability of a work permit quota.
The on-line notification can no longer be used to obtain short-term work authorisations for UK nationals.
Family members of UK nationals wishing to move to Switzerland will have to prove that they speak the local language to a level equivalent to A1 of the European reference framework or provide proof of enrollment in a language course to gain these skills.
UK nationals will continue to be exempt from Swiss entry visa requirements. Similarly, the UK has given assurances that Swiss nationals will also remain exempt from the requirement to obtain a visa for travel to the UK.
- In the event of either Brexit scenario, the rights acquired under the AFMP by Swiss and UK nationals currently living and working in the UK and Switzerland, respectively, will be safeguarded.
- In the event of a deal scenario, there will be a transition period expected to end in December 2020 during which the AFMP will continue to apply, i.e. status quo.
- After the transition period, or in the event of a no deal scenario, UK nationals wishing to take up employment in Switzerland will be subject to a new immigration procedure: an application will need to be submitted evidencing that Swiss minimum salary and employment conditions are met and approval will be conditional to the availability of a work permit quota. Employers are encouraged to plan ahead to take into account the additional administrative process.
- UK nationals will remain visa exempt after Brexit.
For help in navigating how Brexit will impact your business, please contact PwC Switzerland’s Immigration Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More Brexit related information can be found here.