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Either during or at the end of a course of study, a student can apply for a residence permit on the basis of a different motive (work, family reunification with a derived permit if married).

In this case, two fundamental principles apply:

  • The student will be subject to strict conditions of access to the Swiss labour market (quotas and priority order).
  • The student will generally have to leave Switzerland and wait abroad for the outcome of the application procedure.

However, there are exceptions to these principles:

Specific case of persons with a university degree

(Exception to the principle 1)

On 1 January 2011, as a result of a parliamentary initiative aimed at “Simplified Admission for Foreign Nationals with Swiss University Degrees” 1, the FNIA was amended in favour of persons with a Swiss university degree.

A list of Swiss higher education institutions can be found here:

The concept of a “Swiss university” must, however, be interpreted in a broad way. And yet, obtaining a Federal Diploma of Vocational Education and Training is not a sufficient condition. 2

A graduate of a Swiss university has the right to be granted “temporary admission” for six months right after the end of their studies in order to look for a job in Switzerland. This means that they do not have to leave Switzerland at the end of their studies.3

However, graduates do not have the right to long-term work permits. This is a simplification of the usual conditions for admission to the labour market (normally, the worker must prove that there is no one in Switzerland or in any of the EU/EFTA member states capable of performing the work).

Furthermore, the gainful activity that the graduate intends to undertake must be of “high academic or economic interest” for Switzerland. This is a vague and undefined principle. 4

Legal basis: Art. 21 para. 3 FNIA

Persons entitled to the right of residence

(Exception to the principle 2)

Persons who can prove a strong likelihood that they have the right to residence in Switzerland do not have to leave the country. The most typical example is family reunification based on marriage to a Swiss or EU citizen.5

Prior periods of stay count towards the granting of a permanent residence permit

If a student is able to convert their permit for educational purposes into a long-term residence permit, they will be eligible for a permanent residence permit (C permit) after a certain period of time. This period is generally 5 years.

However, stays for educational purposes are only taken into account if, once the course has ended, the applicant has been in possession of a long-term residence permit for two years without interruption.

Art. 34 para. 5 FNIA.

  1. AS 2010, 5957; National Council Political Institutions Committee Report of 5 November 2009, on the Initiative 08.407.
  2. Annotated Code of Migration Law vol.II Ad Art. N° 24.
  3. Annotated Code of Migration Law vol.II Ad Art. N° 28.
  4. Annotated Code of Migration Law vol.II Ad Art.21 N° 26.
  5. See ATAF 138 I 41.