Switzerland needs a startup visa. NOW!

In Startup Scene by Sébastien FluryLeave a Comment

On 9th of February, Swiss citizens had a voting on a delicate topic: the restriction of immigration in Switzerland. Around 56% of people have expressed their opinion and this dangerous initiative (for Swiss economy) has been finally accepted by 50.34% of people (or an advantage of around 19’000 people). Everyone has to accept it, because that’s direct democracy… People have voted with their emotions and fear of foreigners – even if Swiss citizens are not at all racist. Every urban area (where percentage of foreign population is higher) has voted against this initiative, which proves this. I’ve been hearing some breaching stories where some employers did all wrong. Probably, there are things to change to fight against that. Swiss population has expressed its choice to regulate more immigration, like many countries do (green card in the USA, Canada, Australia, etc.). Unfortunately, the initiative is clumsy, damages the image of Switzerland… and doesn’t bring any solution!

Switzerland is not part of the European Union (Switzerland rejected it in 1992). As well as the country is politically independent, Swiss economy is massively oriented on exportation and therefore, has strong links with countries of Europe. Swiss government has done a pretty good job in negotiating win-win agreements with EU and in 2002, Switzerland has opened its frontiers to European citizens (before this, European workers were subject to quotas – meaning that if you need to hire someone and the contingents are over… you cannot hire this guy/gal). Since then, Switzerland has been performing really well and is one of the most healthy and prosperous economy of the world, thanks to the free movement of workers. Or at least partially.
Now, the result of the voting put in danger the whole package of agreements with EU. For instance, access to research program “Horizon 21” has been suspended for Swiss universities and the CHF 1bn funding of the “Brain Lab” project, granted to EPFL, is also in danger. Students mobility program Erasmus for Swiss citizens is already frozen. Scarying. Innovation and mobility of students (help students get international experience) are key ingredients of the Swiss economy. The Swiss government will have a tough job to find an agreement with European Union. But I’m confident. Swiss diplomats are really talented and the current Swiss president (Didier Burkhalter) is a clever and slikful politician.
Whole Swiss economy will be hurt by this initiative. And startups even more. As if it wasn’t already challenging enough to launch and grow a startup!
Taking part to the Swiss startup scene for years, I can say that many (if not most) startup founders in Switzerland do not have the Swiss nationality. It’s a fact. It’s even more true for EPFL/ETHZ spin-offs, which count a lot of students and researchers from abroad. If you’re launching your startup, how can you claim that you have a “work agreement with an employer who hasn’t found any other guy to fill the job”? And a good portion of the employees of Swiss startups do not have the Swiss nationality, too.
And what are we going to say to foreign students terminating their studies here? That the quotas are over and they have to go away? We contribute to their education with performing universities and Swiss economy need these talented people.
Moreover, there is a big mistake with quotas: work permits are first delivered to big corporations. For instance, for American workers (they are under a quota regulation), I’ve heard some years ago that in Geneva, the quotas are over in March of each year (who can confirm?). What’s your chance of hiring an American as a Swiss startup? Tiny, but you could say – until now – that you should find a European worker instead.
Lastly, and in contrary to traditional industries (like farming, etc.), startups do not have a lobby at Swiss Parliament to influence the decisions (except probably one guy, Fathi Derder, who is putting a lot of efforts to support startups). And neither does ICT.
So what can we do? I’d say that we need a startup visa, with as little bureaucracy as possible… Here what could be the criterions to get this startup visa:
  • if you’re launching your tech startup after studies, you should get a work permit of 2-3 years at least. Or consider joining a startup right after your studies;
  • if the tech company is less than 5 years old
  • if the company counts less than 20 employees (20? YES, 20. Why so many? Because startup have to be able to grow quickly!)
  • if the potential employees are skilled workers (as US administration states for immigration)
  • if you’re from abroad and want to establish and operate your startup from Switzerland.
I’m probably missing some points here, but that’s a “work in progress”. If you have any suggestion regarding a Swiss startup visa, please let me know!