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Swiss COVID-19 Response Timeline, Status and Outlook
| Jehona Islami | Konstantin Schmid

Swiss COVID-19 Response Timeline, Status and Outlook

As COVID-19 infections are once again on the rise across Europe and around the world, it is a good time to review the Swiss government’s response to the pandemic during 2020, its impact on immigration and the outlook moving forward into 2021.

After the first positive COVID-19 test result in Switzerland on 25 February 2020, the Swiss government initially did not implement any immigration-related measures, instead focusing on educating the public, restricting public events and initiating economic assistance for affected businesses. It also declared a state of a “special situation,” according to the Epidemics Act, empowering the federal government with competencies that are usually with the cantons.

Step-by-step closure of Swiss borders and immigration

The first impact on immigration was the closure of nine border crossings between the southern part of Switzerland and Italy on 11 March 2020. Only two days later, on 13 March 2020, entry restrictions at the border to Italy were introduced: Foreigners without residence in Switzerland (or without appropriate entry visa) were not allowed to enter if they were not able to provide strong reasons for their travels going forward.

Extraordinary Situation - 16 March 2020

On 16 March 2020, the federal government declared the state of an “extraordinary situation,” further enhancing federal powers to the detriment of cantonal participation. Border checks and entry restrictions for non-eligible people were extended to all neighbouring countries (except for Liechtenstein) as of 17 March 2020. During this time, the immigration and labour market authorities continued to work as usual, only limiting personal interactions. Individual cantonal migration and labour market authorities announced suspensions of their services or delays in their processing times.

Full lock-down - 19 March 2020

On 19 March 2020, restrictions were extended to Spain as well as all Non-EU/EFTA states outside of the Schengen area. In addition to this, the federal authorities stopped processing new work authorisation applications for both EU and non-EU nationals, and Swiss representations abroad halted the issuing of national and Schengen visa. Both measures were set to be in place until 15 June 2020. On 24 March 2020, the entry restrictions were finally extended to all remaining Schengen states, except Liechtenstein. As such, Swiss borders were closed as of 24 March 2020, only allowing permit/visa holders, Swiss citizens and people in cases of hardship and in cases of national public interest to enter Switzerland.

Easing of restrictions

11 May marked the first easing of entry restrictions, allowing specific categories of people to enter Switzerland if coming from Germany and Austria (e.g., unmarried couples, family members). On 15 June, a substantial step toward normalisation of conditions was taken, lifting restrictions on people entering Switzerland from Schengen countries and reinstituting the right of the free movement of persons according to the agreements with EU and EFTA countries. As part of these measures, the authorities resumed processing new applications and Swiss representations abroad recommenced issuing entry visa.

Currently, applications are being processed normally and Switzerland operates with two lists—one for countries that are exempted from the entry restrictions and one for departure countries requiring quarantine upon arrival in Switzerland.

Outlook

As cases rose across the globe again during the first weeks of autumn, Switzerland introduced domestic measures and modified the two lists according to the current global and Swiss situation. We expect the government to continue using this approach, restricting entry from certain countries and especially for tourist purposes, and requiring arrivals from certain countries to observe quarantine upon arrival according to the development of global case numbers. While there are delays in the processing times of some cantonal authorities, a new suspension of service is not expected in the foreseeable future.

If you have questions regarding any of the issues discussed above, please reach out to me, Jehona Islami, Senior Manager in our Zurich office, at [email protected], or Immigration Consultant Konstantin Schmid, at [email protected].

This blog was published on 7 December 2020, and due to the circumstances, there are frequent changes.To keep up to date with all the latest updates on global immigration, please visit our COVID-19 microsite, subscribe to our alerts and follow us on LinkedIn.