For most foreigners, Switzerland appears to be a paradise for working conditions. Swiss employees enjoy some of the highest salaries in the world. Despite widespread job losses in Switzerland during the early 1990s recession, unemployment is still among the lowest in Europe.
Regarding the employment of foreigners, Switzerland is known for restrictive immigration policies and work permit quotas. Even though the system may seem complicated at first glance, finding a job in Switzerland isn’t as difficult as official Swiss policy may lead you to believe. And the good news is that, according to Swiss law, foreign workers have to be employed under the same salaries and work conditions as Swiss citizens.
In reality, the number of foreigners working in Switzerland has increased continuously during the last decade. In Switzerland, there are now over 1.5 million foreigners resident in the country. This adds up to some 20% of the total population and a significant contribution to the country’s economic success story.
From 2002, a Swiss/EU bilateral agreement guarantees the free movement of EU citizens in Switzerland. There are some provisions and quotas that remain until 2007, but basically this agreement facilitates entry, residence and employment in Switzerland. After 2007, a European citizen will have complete freedom of employment in Switzerland. At the same time, requirements for non-EU-citizens wishing to work in Switzerland have become stricter.
When looking for a job, it is important to bear in mind that there are significant regional differences in the Swiss labour market. Geneva is the area with the highest percentage of foreign workers (almost 50%) – many work in one of the international institutions, such as the U.N., based there. The banking industry is centred mainly in and around Zurich.
As in any foreign country, speaking the local language is a definitive advantage. For your job search, consider the main local language in the area where you wish to work. Switzerland has four official languages: German (spoken by 64% of the population), French (19%), Italian (8%) and Rhaeto-Roman (1%). If you’re aiming to work in an international institution or large multinational company, much of the work may be conducted in English with other non-Swiss nationals. However, for national or smaller Swiss companies, you will almost certainly be required to have a basic command of the local language. The level of language required will depend on the nature of the position and what sort of work you will be doing.
If you’re a native English-speaker, don’t expect this to be a big advantage in the job market (unless you want to teach it, of course). The Swiss are a very polyglot nation and many happily speak at least two of the national languages and English.
Recognition of diplomas
Many professions and jobs in Switzerland are regulated and/or require some formal qualifications. For many trades and professions, foreign qualifications are recognized as equivalent if the training is similar to the Swiss qualification. Swiss/EU agreements meant that Switzerland now recognizes most EU diplomas and qualifications.