Non EU/EFTA citizens: applying for a work permit

Applying for a work permit to hire skilled non-European staff is an important step for any international company based in Switzerland. In Geneva, it means dealing with the OCPM (Office Cantonal de la Population et des Migrations), who issues these B or L permits based on the documents submitted by the employer. At the cantonal level, the permit request is examined by the SMOE (Service de la main-d’oeuvre étrangère). The type of permit delivered is dependent on the length of the contract. A contract going over 365 days will result in a B permit while a contract under one year will result in the delivery of a short-term L permit.

Examination process

The work permit application process follows strict rules. Only the employer can submit the application on behalf of the non-European worker. For the canton of Geneva, the OCPM first receives the application, sends it to the SMOE for examination and then issues a positive or negative notice. If it is positive, the application is then examined by the SEM (Secrétariat d’Etat aux migrations) in Bern that takes the final decision. Bern will take in account aspects such as national quotas for non-European work permits. Finally, the applicant has to obtain a visa through the Swiss consulate of his country of residence to be able to travel to Switzerland and have his permit issued. The visa is delivered once the SEM has approved the application and has sent electronically the authorization to the Swiss consulate. Once in Switzerland, the worker has 14 days to announce his arrival at the OCPM. Only after that, the applicant will be able to start working.

Documents required from employers

In Geneva, employers must, first of all, fill up the M form in two copies. A contract stipulating the length of the work to be undertaken and signed by the two parties must be joined. Then, most importantly, the employer must be able to prove that he has first searched on the Swiss and European job market for a suitable candidate for a period of at least 30 days. Proofs of job advertisement posted on recruitment platforms as well as on the official site of the Office Cantonal de l’Emploi (OCE) must be joined to the application. The employer must also submit a letter of motivation, a description of the company and his employees work permit status and citizenship and justify why he is hiring this particular non-European worker. Finally, the worker’s CV and diplomas must also be joined demonstrating expertise and skills in a specific area justifying the fact that his profile is standing out.

The process can take three to six months before receiving a decision from the authorities.


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    This website aims to provide general information regarding Swiss law and should not be regarded as a legal opinion. For more specific advice, do not hesitate to contact us.