Brexit and Switzerland: service providers, quotas and visa-free travel

Vanessa Knecht Senior Associate, PwC Switzerland 11 Dec 2020

Winter is here and - Brexit is soon upon us. The United Kingdom's withdrawal from the EU brings many changes and challenges for services providers as well as the fact that new agreements are constantly being pushed out. 

On 4 December 2020 the Federal Council approved an agreement between Switzerland and the United Kingdom (UK) on the mobility of service providers between the two countries. This so-called 'Services Mobility Agreement' (SMA) is part of the Federal Council’s “mind-the-gap” strategy following the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU).

The SMA regulates the common access and temporary stay of service providers and will enter into force on 1 January 2021.

It states that service providers from the UK may continue to benefit from the online notification procedure for stays of up to 90 days per calendar year and per sending entity by simply notifying the authorities via the online-tool.

The SMA will be valid for the next two years, after which a new decision will be made.

New annual quotas for UK citizens on assignment or local employment

On 25 November 2020 the Federal Council decided that the annual quotas for work permits issued to non-EU/EFTA as well as for EU/EFTA citizens will not change for the year 2021, compared to this year.

However, due to the withdrawal of the UK from the EU, the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) between Switzerland and the EU will no longer be applicable for UK citizens from 1 January 2021 onwards.

That is why the Swiss Federal Council has released separate quotas for UK citizens for the year 2021.

Up to 3,500 UK workers can be recruited for employment in Switzerland during 2021. Permits for UK citizens can be granted in the cantonal competence and are not subject to the approval process of the federal government for the time being.

The quotas will be set as follows:

Permit Type EU/EFTA assignments
for more than 120 days


UK nationals
B Permits 500 4,500 2,100
L Permits 3,000 4,000 1,400

These separate quotas for UK citizens are only confirmed for the year 2021. If there is no further agreement on the migration regime between Switzerland and the UK within the next 12 months, the quotas for UK citizens might be cancelled and most probably integrated into the general non-EU/EFTA quotas from 2022 onwards.

Entry visas for UK citizens for short stays

Visa reciprocity is a fundamental principle of the EU's common visa policy. The current visa reciprocity mechanism (Regulation (EU) 2018/1806) details countries whose citizens must have a visa when travelling to the Schengen area and of countries whose citizens are exempt from that requirement.

In light of the UK's withdrawal from the EU, the EU has revised the Regulation on visas such that UK citizens are exempted from visa requirements for a short-term stay without gainful activity (90 days in any 180-day period) for the Schengen area (therefore including Switzerland).

This amendment applies from the day that the UK leaves the EU, i.e. from 1 January 2021.

UK citizens resident in Switzerland

On 25 February 2019, Switzerland and the UK signed an agreement on acquired citizens’ rights which protects the residence rights (and other rights) of Swiss and UK citizens previously acquired under the AFMP beyond 1 January 2021.

Therefore, UK citizens living in Switzerland and who obtain a short- or long-stay residence permit before 31 December 2020 do not need to take any action - their existing right to remain is not affected, as long as they continue to meet the relevant residence requirements under the AFMP. The same principle applies to UK citizens in possession of a permanent residence (C) permit as well as persons with an EU/EFTA cross-border commuter permit.

However, UK citizens with a valid permit may need to exchange their current permit for a different one. If they are not informed that they need a different permit, they must simply apply for a new permit before their existing one expires, as usual.

The Services Mobility Agreement (SMA) is a pragmatic solution to the challenges service providers were facing due to Brexit.
In our view this Agreement - together with the agreement on acquired citizens’ rights, visa facilitation, as well as the recently agreed quotas for UK citizens - demonstrates the commitment between Switzerland and the UK to maintain and further build a strong trading relationship post-Brexit.

More Brexit related information can be found here.

Contact us

Marcel Meier

Marcel Meier

Partner, People and Organisation, PwC Switzerland

Tel: +41 58 792 68 61

Samantha  Thomann Brand

Samantha Thomann Brand

Manager, PwC Switzerland

Tel: +41587922163

Vanessa  Knecht

Vanessa Knecht

Senior Associate, PwC Switzerland

Tel: +41587924172