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Vocational education and training VET, apprenticeship

Which foreign nationals can complete basic vocational training, an apprenticeship, in Switzerland?

Who is admitted?

Citizens of EU/EFTA countries can complete an apprenticeship in Switzerland, thanks to agreements between the EU and Switzerland. Apprentices receive a salary every month and require a residence and/or work permit.

Is health insurance mandatory?

In general, health insurance is required in Switzerland: this also applies to apprentices who return abroad in the evenings or at weekends. Further information on health insurance: Federal Office of Public Health FOPH, bag.admin.ch.

What language requirements are necessary?

Good language skills are required. This corresponds to at least B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages CEFR for a 2- and 3-year apprenticeship. For 3-year apprenticeships with increased language requirements and 4-year apprenticeships, knowledge should be at least B2. Example of an apprenticeship with increased language requirements: Commercial Employee, Federal Diploma of Vocational Education and Training.

Recognition of foreign educational qualifications

There is no possibility of having foreign educational qualifications, such as school-leaving certificates or upper secondary school-leaving certificates, recognised at federal level.

What conditions apply?

Those who arrive in Switzerland after completing compulsory schooling must first learn the local language and sometimes catch up on schoolwork, which usually means that they cannot start an apprenticeship until they are of age.

The Integration Pre-Apprenticeship Programme INVOL

The INVOL integration programme provides targeted preparation for an apprenticeship. It lasts one year. This programme is specifically for refugees, temporarily admitted persons or late immigrants.
The INVOL programme has two parts:

  • People usually work in a company for three days a week.
  • They go to school for two days.

They learn the basics of the language and work skills. They will also learn essential skills to enable them to complete basic vocational training afterwards.

For more information on INVOL, see: sem.admin.ch. This website is available in German, French and Italian only.

Can an apprenticeship be started without delay?

Migrants with good basic knowledge and potential can start an apprenticeship directly. In such cases, a two-year basic vocational training programme with a Federal VET Certificate may be possible. This certificate supports integration and helps people who have problems with learning. INVOL and/or shorter training programmes help people with language barriers to learn more quickly.

Residence permit: what is the legal situation?

In Switzerland, starting an apprenticeship is regarded as taking up gainful employment. Depending on residence status:

  • Gainful employment is possible without any further steps.
  • Gainful employment requires notification of the start of employment.
  • Gainful employment is subject to authorisation.

The cantonal labour market or migration authorities should be contacted if there are any doubts or questions regarding the legal and administrative procedures.

Before concluding an apprenticeship contract, the host company is obliged to submit the necessary notifications or obtain the necessary authorisations from the relevant authorities.

The conclusion of an apprenticeship contract or an INVOL contract is possible with the following residence authorisations - or possible under certain circumstances.

C permit - permanent residence permit: EU/EFTA and third countries

  • Foreign nationals with a permanent residence permit are subject to the same conditions as Swiss nationals with regard to the pursuit of gainful employment.
  • They can conclude an apprenticeship contract or INVOL apprenticeship contract without an additional work permit.

Permit B - residence permit: EU/EFTA

  • Persons in possession of an EU/EFTA residence permit, EU/EFTA B permit, have the same rights as holders of a C permanent residence permit with regard to the pursuit of gainful employment.
  • They are authorised to conclude an apprenticeship contract and apprenticeship without an additional work permit.
  • Holders of an EU/EFTA B permit must notify the competent cantonal migration or labour market authority of the commencement.
  • The purpose of residence can then be changed, if necessary, by printing a specific remark on the permit.
  • Notification is also required for entry into an integration pre-apprenticeship, which trains participants for a year in preparation for an apprenticeship.

Permit B: third-country nationals

  • Foreign nationals who do not hold a B permit with the EU/EFTA endorsement can in principle be gainfully employed in all branches of employment. These persons with a B permit can change jobs without authorisation. Exceptions are persons who are not available on the labour market due to a particular type of activity.
  • It is generally possible to take up an apprenticeship and INVOL. Before concluding an apprenticeship contract In case of uncertainty, the relevant labour market or migration authority must be contacted to check whether it is possible to start an apprenticeship.

Permit B: recognised refugees

  • Foreign nationals who have been granted asylum by Switzerland are recognised as refugees by all federal and cantonal authorities and are entitled to be gainfully employed.
  • Recognised refugees can work in all gainful employment in all branches of the labour market and throughout Switzerland. The commencement and termination of gainful employment as well as a change of job merely have to be reported to the cantonal authorities in advance.
  • An authorisation is not required. An apprenticeship can be started immediately after notification. To begin an integration pre-apprenticeship, which prepares participants during one year to prepare for an apprenticeship, a notification is necessary.

Permit F: temporarily admitted persons, with or without refugee status

  • Temporarily admitted persons, with or without refugee status, can apply for an apprenticeship in all branches of employment and throughout Switzerland.
  • The commencement and termination of gainful employment as well as a change of job has to be reported in advance to the competent cantonal authorities.
  • Authorisation is not required.
  • It is possible to take up an apprenticeship immediately after registration. For entry into an integration pre-apprenticeship, preparing participants for an apprenticeship during one year, a notification is necessary.

Permit L EU/EFTA:  short-term residence permit

  • Persons who are in possession of an EU/EFTA short-term residence permit, the EU/EFTA L permit, have the same rights to pursue gainful employment as holders of a permanent residence permit.
  • They can conclude an apprenticeship contract and start an apprenticeship without an additional work permit.
  • Holders of an EU/EFTA L permit must notify the competent cantonal immigration or labour market authority so that the purpose of residence can be changed, and the permit adapted to the actual circumstances by printing a specific remark on the permit.

Permit G EU/EFTA: cross-border commuter permit

  • Cross-border commuters from EU/EFTA member states who have an apprenticeship contract receive a cross-border commuter permit for the duration of their employment relationship.
  • This permit can be extended if the employment is continued.

G permit: third-country nationals

  • Cross-border commuters from third countries can only be gainfully employed in Switzerland within certain border zones. Cross-border commuters live in the border zone of the neighbouring country.
  • The permit is valid for one year and is renewable.
  • To conclude an apprenticeship contract, an application must be submitted to the relevant labour market or migration authority.
  • This authority checks whether the person has a permanent right of residence in a neighbouring country and has resided in the neighbouring border zone for at least six months, as well as whether the priority of nationals and the wage and working conditions have been complied with.
  • Cross-border commuters from third countries will only be admitted to basic vocational training in Switzerland in exceptional cases.

Permit S: persons in need of protection

  • The S permit is limited to a maximum of one year, but can be extended. After five years at the earliest, persons in need of protection receive a B residence permit, which is valid until the temporary protection is cancelled.
  • Taking up gainful employment, starting a vocational or integration pre-apprenticeship as well as change of job are possible, but require authorisation. Gainful employment can already be authorised as soon as protection status is granted. There is no waiting period. The employer must apply for authorisation with the relevant labour market or migration authorities. The authorities will check whether the usual local and industry-specific wage and working conditions are being complied with.

Permit N: asylum seekers

  • The gainful employment of asylum seekers is subject to authorisation. Asylum seekers may not engage in gainful employment during their stay in federal centres. Once asylum seekers have been assigned to a canton, the cantonal migration or labour market authorities may authorise gainful employment.
  • Temporary gainful employment may be granted to asylum seekers if the economic and labour market situation permits, the salary and working conditions and the priority given to Swiss nationals are complied with, and they are not subject to a legally binding expulsion order.
  • It may make sense to start an apprenticeship if the outcome of the asylum procedure is likely to be favourable. Asylum seekers may be granted a temporary work permit to start an apprenticeship by the responsible labour market or migration authorities.

Sans-papiers

Young undocumented migrants may be granted a temporary work and residence permit for the duration of their apprenticeship, provided the following conditions are met:

  • The young person has attended school in Switzerland for at least 5 years.
  • The application must be submitted within 12 months of leaving school.
  • There is an application from an employer who wishes to employ the person concerned.
  • The young person is well integrated and respects the legal system.
  • The young person has disclosed their identity.
  • The employer writes an application to the canton stating that they wish to employ the person as an apprentice. This does not make the employer liable to prosecution.

The young person must also submit an application to the relevant cantonal authority for a residence permit for hardship cases. If the decision is in favour, the application will be forwarded to the State Secretariat for Migration. The latter issues a hardship permit, provided that the relevant requirements are met. Employers must keep the apprenticeship position open, until a decision has been made on the application. Once the apprenticeship has been completed, the competent cantonal authorities must decide on further residence.


No apprenticeship is possible

The conclusion of an apprenticeship contract is not possible with the following residence permits:

Permit L - short-term residence permit: third-country nationals

  • The work and residence permit of persons with a short-term residence permit without an EU/EFTA endorsement is limited to the duration of the activity for which they were authorised to enter Switzerland, but for no longer than one year.
  • An extension of this permit is possible, but the maximum duration of stay is 2 years.
  • A change of job is only possible in exceptional cases and is subject to authorisation.
  • The general conditions for starting an apprenticeship cannot fulfil the admission criteria for these persons to the labour market within the framework of the permit procedure.


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