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Scope of application

The basic legal regime applies to all foreigners wishing to come to Switzerland who do not have EU nationality or EFTA member country nationality.

Even in cases where students are not themselves nationals of an EU member state, they can, under certain conditions, enjoy free movement if a member of their family is an EU member state national.

See the section on Europeans and others.

Fundamental Principles

Non-Europeans do not have the right to come to Switzerland for educational purposes. The FNIA requires that those going to study in Switzerland request prior authorisation. Yet according to the law, the migration authorities can issue this authorisation – if they so choose. In practice, however, they rarely do, especially when the student in question comes from a southern country, where the overall standard of living is much lower than in Switzerland.

One needs to understand the following: State discrimination based on a person’s social and geographic origins is rarely as explicit as it is in this area. The authorities apply a “restrictive” policy to the issuing of residence permits for studies.1 This is explained by the fact that unlike work permits, residence permits for educational purposes are not subject to quotas. They are also not subject to the priority rankings which oblige non-European workers to prove that there is no one, either in Switzerland or the whole of the EU, who is capable of doing the job (Art. 21 para. 1 and 2 FNIA). The Swiss authorities view this as a loophole in a system that aspires to be extremely protectionist against the labour of those from outside Europe. This is similar to what happens in relation to the right to asylum or family reunification, where the authorities assume that the whole world is trying to take advantage of this loophole to come and work in Switzerland. They therefore multiply the administrative hurdles and the surveillance of students, who, it is assumed, lie about the reasons that drive them to migrate.

The opportunity to migrate is conceived of as temporary and limited to the duration of the education or training. The idea is that the student returns to their home country once they get their degree. However, since 2011, there has been an important exception to this principle for graduates of a Swiss higher education institution.

Entry into Swiss territory and residence permit: One should not confuse the procedures by which entry into Switzerland is authorised with those for granting residents permits for educational purposes.

The process of obtaining authorisation to enter Switzerland is linked with that of obtaining a visa. This issue is regulated by the Ordinance on Entry and the Granting of Visas (EGVO) which is explained here.

It is the residence permit that regulates your right to remain in Switzerland after you have entered the country. The conditions for obtaining a residence permit for educational purposes are set out in Art. 27 of the FNIA, supplemented by Art. 23 and 24 of the ASEO. They are explained in detail in a specific section.

  1. SEM I Directives No 5.1.