Posted: 14 Mar. 2022

Swiss Federal Council activates protection status S for refugees from Ukraine

The Federal Council decided on March 11, 2022 that persons who have had to leave Ukraine because of the war will be granted protection status S in Switzerland. This gives refugees a quick and unbureaucratic right of residence in Switzerland without having to go through a regular asylum procedure and is valid initially for 1 year.

The status S largely corresponds to the temporary protection adopted by  EU member states. This protection status also includes access to schools for children, as well as, access to social welfare, health care, the labour market and the option of family reunion processes for close dependents. As this is the first time that the federal council has activated this protection status, many details with regard to the practical implications are still unclear.

Entering Switzerland and the Schengen area

As Switzerland is part of the Schengen area, Ukrainians can enter Switzerland without a visa and can stay for a total of 90 days within a 180 day period. This rule still applies regardless of the S permit. We also understand the following exemptions apply when entering Switzerland:

  • Exemptions from COVID requirements
  • Visa free entry also without biometric passport
  • Potentially, entry even if the 90 day Schengen stay has already been exhausted

What is Protection Status S

In order to grant protection to  refugees quickly and as unbureaucratically as possible, the Federal Council has activated protection status S for the first time. With protection status S, a specific group of people can be granted collective protection for the duration of a serious threat, especially during a war. This applies from Saturday, March 12, 2022. Under this status, applicants receive a Permit S, which gives them access to accommodation, medical insurance, social welfare, the labour market and schools for the children. The State Secretariat for Migration is currently examining with the cantons whether measures to promote language acquisition are necessary. In addition, persons with protection status S are allowed to travel without a pre-approval.

Permit type and validity

The applicants will receive a permit S, limited for one year. The permit is extendable. In case the protection status has not been revoked by the Federal Council after 5 years, the applicants will receive a permit B, limited until the protection status is revoked. The permit is therefore of temporary nature. The application for a permit S should be requested at a Federal Asylum Centre.

Who can apply?

Ukrainian nationals and their family members, which include partners, minor children and other close relatives who at the time of escape have been at least partially supported by the main applicant. Furthermore, persons from third countries who have left the country because of the war will also be granted S status. The prerequisite is that they have a valid residence permit in Ukraine prior to their escape and cannot return safely and permanently to their home country.

All applicants must have been residents of Ukraine until 24 February 2022. Not covered by protection status S are persons who have already been granted protection status in another EU state. 

Right to Work

At the ordinance level, the Federal Council has decided on individual adjustments to the S protection status defined in the Asylum Act. For example, the waiting period of three months for taking up gainful employment has been abolished. The Federal Council also allows self-employment and full access to the labour market.

While the S permit includes the access to labour market, a separate application has to be submitted by the employer and approved, before a S permit holder is work eligible. The application process might be slightly different in all cantons. Typically, the application has to be submitted with the labour market authorities along with a copy of the fully signed Swiss employment contract and a copy of the S permit and a passport copy. The authorities check, if the mandatory employment conditions including appropriate salary levels are fulfilled. There is no quota or priority of the local labour market to be considered.

Recommendations for employers

This status is new and has been activated for the first time. The practical implementation still needs to be established. For employers, interested in offering employment for persons with status S, we recommend  individually checking with the cantonal labour market authorities and the migration offices about the required applications to obtain a work authorisation. As this status is of temporary nature it is also worth evaluating the standard non-EU application process for key talents that fulfil the eligibility criteria to ensure a long-term work and residence status.

If you have any questions about this topic or would like to share your views, please reach out to our key contacts below.

Key contacts

David Wigersma

Partner, Global Employer Services

Julia Stutzer

Director, Immigration