‘A short-term L permit is almost useless for non-EU graduates of Swiss unis’

What is it like for a non-EU graduate of a Swiss university trying to find work in Switzerland? Here, India's Harish Ravi shares his own experiences of what can be a very frustrating process.

'A short-term L permit is almost useless for non-EU graduates of Swiss unis'
Harish Ravi says networking is the best way to find a job in Switzerland.

Recently, The Local reported on a vote in the Swiss parliament calling for work permit quotas for non-EU graduates of Swiss universities to be scrapped.

The parliament’s vote aims to help Switzerland retain talent and ensure it doesn’t end up educating people without reaping the benefits.

Currently, only around 10–15 percent of graduates from outside the EU (so-called “third-country nationals”) stay on in the country, according to figures from Swiss industry group economiesuisse.

After we published our article, India's Harish Kumar Ravi wrote to The Local to tell us about his experiences trying to find work in Switzerland after completing a PhD in Chemistry and Molecular Sciences at the University of Bern. Here is what he told us:

I moved to Bern, Switzerland at 23 for my PhD. The year was 2009. Prior to that, I lived in Stockholm where I did my Master’s degree.

I still vividly remember taking the train from Zurich to Bern. The sight from my window seat was fabulous. Instantly, I loved the rural landscapes. When I reached the train station in the afternoon it was completely different from what I used to experiencing back in India. It was less chaotic!

Read also: For Indians in Switzerland, the silence can be deafening

The quality of life and the work–life balance, are just a few things that make Switzerland one of the most attractive countries in the world to live in. Just like most foreigners who have been fortunate enough to set foot in this country, it was love at first sight for me.

I found out the best way to integrate in Switzerland was to join some clubs. Since I am naturally inclined to sports, I chose to join the University of Bern Badminton Club. It was probably one of the best decisions of my life. During my time at the club, I made quite a few friends, most of them Swiss.

Not only I was feeling at home, but I was also doing what I loved most: carrying out research and playing badminton.

Everything was going well until 2013. It was my final year of PhD and I would now have to soon transition to Industry to continue staying in Switzerland.

I graduated with an “Insigni cum laude” mark (denoting “excellent” in Switzerland). However, I found out that it isn't easy to find jobs in Switzerland, especially if you are from a non-EU background.

At the end of 2013, I officially registered with the RAV (ORP/URC), Switzerland's unemployment agency. It was really tough for me to handle the new situation I found myself in. The last thing I wanted to happen to me after doing a PhD was to be unemployed. Back home in India, my family and friends were surprised to find out that you can still become unemployed even when you have a PhD.

When I applied for the six-month visa extension to find work, my visa changed from a B (or resident) permit to and L (short-term) permit.

Read also: An essential guide to Swiss work permits

It was very frustrating for me since companies – and especially recruitment consultancies – wanted me to hold a B permit to be considered for vacancies, rather than the L permit that I was now holding.

With my B permit, I got three job interviews but with my L permit this was just one, and that came just before my visa ran out.

In my humble opinion, the L permit is almost useless when it comes to searching for jobs since most recruiters aren't even aware of it, or do not want to take a risk by taking on an L permit holder. They only deal with B or C (permanent resident) permit holders. 

After a few more months of unsuccessful job search, I was resigned to the fact that Switzerland was just not for me. With a heavy heart, I left Switzerland in February 2015 when my visa was close to expiring.

As an expat who had lived the previous seven and a half years in Europe, I was now having difficulties to fit into my country of birth. It was a reverse cultural shock for me!

The next two years was probably the hardest phase of my life. I wasn't able to find jobs in my area of expertise – Pharma Research and Development. It was even more depressing since I was no longer in Switzerland and I was not even getting any more interviews.

Thanks to my brother-in-law, I was offered a job in Kuwait for a sub-contracting company servicing the oil and gas industry. I now had to make a decision on whether to change fields and move on from research and development to the oil and gas industry. I decided it was time to transition and I started working as a Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) Engineer from January 2017.  

Read also: The best and worst paid jobs in Switzerland in 2019

In the last few years, I have been doing neither of the things that I loved doing – research and badminton.

My hope is that the Swiss parliament’s proposal to scrap the quota system for non-EU students] will now be passed into law. This will, no doubt, dramatically help non-EU students finding jobs in Switzerland.

Also, my personal suggestions to all non-EU students currently living in Switzerland is to start learning the local language (mainly German and/or French). Not learning the language was my biggest mistake of living in Switzerland.

In addition, try participating in events related to your field and do networking. This is probably the best, if not the only way, to find jobs in Switzerland.

If I can offer just one more piece of advice: while I was registered as unemployed, the RAV recommended that I check check out BNF – the University of Bern's National qualification program. This helps students to connect with companies and NGOs so they can gain work experience and avoid gaps in their CV.

I chose CheckOrphan, an NGO in Basel. There I gained a few months work experience. However, due to a lack of funding/donations, there was no hiring activity going on. In retrospect, I think I should have chosen wisely in terms of where I wanted to be gaining experience after graduation. 

If non-EU graduates are going down the BNF route, they should choose a company where there is an active hiring activity. Also, do some research and ask if they have hired non-EU employees before starting. 

As for me, it has been more than four years since I left the country. However, I am still in touch with my friends and our friendship is still going strong. I don't know if I will ever be able to once again set foot in Switzerland but I will keep trying, in any case. My friends want me to come back and I want to do it for them.

With my new skills in the HSE field, I hope there will be an opportunity for me in Switzerland in the future and I’m determined to find it.

Read also: How to write the perfect Swiss CV

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Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

In Sweden, a sambo is domestic partner – someone you’re in a relationship with and live with, but to whom you aren’t married. If you, as a non-EU citizen, are in a sambo relationship with a Swedish citizen, you can apply for a residence permit on the basis of that relationship. But meeting the requirements of that permit is not always straightforward.

Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

An American reader, whose son lives with his Swedish partner, wrote to The Local with questions about the maintenance requirement her son and his partner must meet in order to qualify for a sambo resident permit.

“Their specific issue is that they meet the requirements for a stable relationship and stable housing, but have been told that qualifying for a sambo visa based on savings is unlikely,” she wrote, asking for suggestions on how to approach this issue. Her son’s partner is a student with no income, but whose savings meet maintenance requirements. But, they have been told by lawyers that Migrationsverket will likely deny the application based on the absence of the Swedish partner’s income.

How do relationships qualify for sambo status?

In order to apply for a residence permit on the basis of a sambo relationship, you and your partner must either be living together, or plan to live together as soon as the non-Swedish partner can come to Sweden. Because this reader’s son is already in Sweden as a graduate student, he can apply for a sambo permit without having to leave the country, provided that his student permit is still valid at the time the new application is submitted.

The Migration Agency notes that “you can not receive a residence permit for the reason that you want to live with a family member in Sweden before your current permit expires”. So once your valid permit is close to expiration, you can apply for a new sambo permit.

What are the maintenance requirements for a sambo permit?

The maintenance requirements for someone applying for a sambo permit fall on the Swedish partner, who must prove that they are able to support both themselves and their partner for the duration of the permit. This includes both housing and financial requirements.

In terms of residential standards that applicants must meet, they must show that they live in a home of adequate size – for two adult applicants without children, that means at least one room with a kitchen. If rented, the lease must be for at least one year.

The financial requirements are more complicated. The Swedish partner must be able to document a stable income that can support the applicant and themselves – for a sambo couple, the 2022 standard is an income of 8,520 kronor per month. This burden falls on the Swedish partner.

While the Migration Agency’s website does say that you may “fulfil the maintenance requirement (be considered able to support yourself) if you have enough money/taxable assets to support yourself, other persons in your household and the family members who are applying for a residence permit for at least two years”, it is unclear how proof of this would be documented. On a separate page detailing the various documents that can be used to prove that maintenance requirements are met, there is nothing about how to document savings that will be used to support the couple.

Can you apply on the basis of savings instead of income?

Well, this is unclear. The Migration Agency’s website does suggest that having enough money saved up to support both members of the sambo relationship is an option, but it gives no details on how to document this. It is also unclear whether applying on the basis of savings will disadvantage applicants, with preference given to applicants who can show proof of income from work.

The Local has reached out to an immigration lawyer to answer this question.