Access to the labour market



Swiss Refugee Council

According to national legislation,1 asylum seekers cannot engage in any gainful employment during the first 3 months after filing an application for asylum. The canton of attribution may extend this restriction for a further 3 months if the asylum application is rejected at the first instance within the first 3-month period.2 After this time limit, asylum seekers are allowed to work if the following conditions are met:

  • The general economic and employment situation must allow it;

  • An employer must request to employ an asylum seeker;

  • The salary and employment conditions customary for the location, profession and sector are fulfilled; and

  • It must be established that no other Swiss or EU/EFTA resident or foreign national with a residence permit with the required profile can be found for the job.3 This means that Swiss or EU/EFTA residents and foreign persons with a residence permit have priority on the job market. These restrictions do not apply to occupational programmes for asylum seekers.4

The cantons can limit access to work to certain sectors.5 For example in the canton of Zurich, it is limited to the building industry, hospitals, homes, institutes (nursing and maintenance), food and drink manufacturing, hotels and catering, canteens, laundries, dry cleaners, sewing and mending shops, waste disposal (waste recycling), Engros-Markt Zurich.6

The authorisation to engage in gainful employment expires when the asylum application is rejected in a legally binding decision, on expiry of the deadline specified for departure. If the SEM extends the departure deadline as part of the ordinary procedure, gainful employment may continue to be authorised. Rejected asylum seekers who lodge a subsequent asylum application (second application, application for re-examination or revision) are not allowed to work unless the canton adopts special measures under the empowerment of the DFJP.

Issuance of working authorisation is under the competence of cantonal authorities and is subject to large variations in practice. Moreover, practice shows that it is very difficult for asylum seekers to access employment because of practical impediments. In addition to the priority of other persons seeking employment, the temporary nature of the legal status of the asylum seeker makes it very difficult to establish the stability requested to find and perform a job. Allocation to a canton also reduces the chance of finding work as the person is not allowed to work in another canton. Language knowledge and recognition of qualifications are further practical impediments.


Special charge7

The issuance of an authorisation to work by cantons is subject to the payment of the special charge established by national law for the reimbursement of social assistance benefits, departure and enforcement costs as well as the costs of the appeal procedure.8 The special charge is not calculated according to the individual costs generated, but serves to cover the overall costs generated by all these gainfully employed persons and their dependents. In practice, this special charge represents a substantial revenue shortfall as it amounts to 10% of the monthly income9 of every gainful activity and is imposed during 10 years up to a global amount of CHF 15,000-.10 It is deducted directly from the earned income of the person concerned by the employer and transferred to the Confederation. The special charge is not reimbursed, even if the person is recognised as a refugee. This is problematic in view of the Refugee Convention. In December 2016, the Swiss parliament decided to abolish this special charge, which has been welcomed by the Swiss Refugee Council. However, this change in law is not yet in force.

Average incomes of asylum seekers are particularly low, as they often only find work in low-paid jobs. As explained under Forms and Levels of Material Reception Conditions, some asylum seekers continue to depend partially on social assistance even after they have found work, because of the insufficient level of income.

At the test centre in Zurich, asylum seekers are not allowed to work during the entire procedure as long they are in the accelerated procedure (see section on Criteria and Restrictions to Access Reception Conditions).11

  • 1. Article 43 AsylA.
  • 2. Article 43(1) AsylA.
  • 3. Article 52 Ordinance on Admission, Period of Stay and Employment.
  • 4. Article 43(4) AsylA.
  • 5. FOM, Directive to the Foreign Nationals Act, Section, available in French at:
  • 6. Canton of Zurich, Office for Economy and Labour, available at:
  • 7. Regulation of the special charge is laid down in the AO2, Chapter 2.
  • 8. Articles 85 and 86 AsylA.
  • 9. Article 13 AO2.
  • 10. Article 10(2)(a) AO2.
  • 11. Article 29a Test Phases Ordinance.

About AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti