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INTERNSHIPS

The purpose of an internship is to enable the trainee to acquire the practical work experience they need to complement a course of academic study.

In Geneva, the following types of internships are viewed as non-problematic:

  • Student internships (in-study internships): mandatory or optional internships pursued while the intern is enrolled in a course of study leading to a degree or professional qualification. 
  • Orientation internships pursued shortly after the completion of a first degree (e.g. Bachelor's) or prior to an advanced degree (e.g. Master's) on condition that the university awarding the degree attests the relevance and usefulness of the internship. 
  • Internships pursued with the aim of assisting the trainee's social or professional reintegration, under the oversight of the cantonal or federal-level authorities.

According to Swiss law (Labour Code and Accident Insurance Act), interns enjoy the same rights as permanent employees. Internships differ from permanent employment only in the following particulars:

  • The internship contract is always for a fixed term;
  • The internship contract is a three-way agreement between the intern, the employer and a third party (e.g. a university or job centre).

1. WORK PERMIT REQUIREMENTS

Non-resident foreign nationals are required to obtain a Swiss work permit by their eighth day of employment, regardless of whether the work they perform is paid or not. This applies to internships, too. The employer must take all necessary steps to obtain a work permit for the intern by applying to the relevant government office in each canton. In Geneva, work permits are issued by the Cantonal Office for Population and Migration (OCPM).

The conditions and process for issuing a work permit depend on the future intern's nationality, country of residence, and the purpose of their stay.

a. Interns who are not resident in Switzerland

i. EU/EFTA Nationals

A facilitated process is in place for citizens of European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) member countries. Employers must apply for a work permit through the OCPM before the start of the internship using form M  (if the intern will be living in Geneva during the contract) or Form F (if the intern will live across the border in France). If the intern is going to live in canton of Vaud, employers must apply for a work permit through the Service de la population (SPOP) of canton of Vaud.

If the internship contract is for less than 90 days, the employer may simply submit a notification procedure for short-term work in Switzerland.

ii. Non-EU/EFTA Nationals 

If the intern is a citizen of a country outside the EU/EFTA, the employer must apply through the OCPM using Form M. The future intern may not begin work until authorised to do so by the cantonal and federal authorities. We recommend you submit the application 6 to 8 weeks before the internship is scheduled to begin.

For a work permit to be granted, the following conditions must be met:

  • Student internships: The internship must take place during or as part of the intern's course of study. Internships completed shortly after graduation may exceptionally be approved if they present a special interest for international Geneva. In that case, employers must include a training plan with the application. 
  • Compensation: The NGO must guarantee the intern a monthly income of at least CHF 2'600. The NGO may either pay the intern directly or confirm that he or she has obtained a grant of CHF 2'600 from a university or other organisation for the purpose of the internship. If the amount of the grant is less than CHF 2'600, the NGO must make up the difference. Please note that a reasonable portion of the intern's salary may also be paid in kind (e.g. housing, meals, transit pass, employee's share of social security contributions, and mandatory healthcare insurance). 
  • Duration: Internships should generally be limited to a maximum of 4 months. Exceptionally, internship lasting longer than 4 months may be approved if the applicant is pursuing a master's degree and the internship presents a special interest for international Geneva.

iii. Young professionals (trainees)

Switzerland has signed trainee exchange agreements with the following countries: South Africa, Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, the Unites States of America, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, the Philippines, Russia, Tunisia, and Ukraine.

Under these agreements, young professionals under the age of 35 who wish to improve their language or professional skills may apply for permission to work in Switzerland. Work permits can be granted for a maximum of 18 months.

Further instructions on how to apply, as well as an application form and a standard employment agreement, can be downloaded from the website of the State Secretariat for Migration.

b. Students residing in Switzerland

Student internships

Foreign nationals holding a Student B permit who are required to complete an internship as part of their studies (according to the official course programme) may apply directly to the OCPM, on condition that the length of the internship does not exceed half the total duration of their course. Applications should be submitted to OCPM using Form E (page 2), along with a confirmation letter from the university stating that the internship is an integral part of the course (e.g. the University of Geneva's International Organizations MBA requires a 3-month internship).

Other types of employment (extra-cursus)

i. EU/EFTA Nationals

Students living in Switzerland and matriculated at a Swiss university or technical college (Student B Permit) who wish to pursue an internship or employment outside their course of study may apply for a work permit through the OCPM (form E - activité accessoire). This allows them to work a maximum of 15 hours per week during term time and full-time during holidays.

ii. Non-EU/EFTA Nationals

Citizens of non-EU/EFTA countries are forbidden to seek paid employment during the first 6 months from their arrival in Switzerland. Thereafter, students who wish to work or pursue an internship outside their course of study may apply for a work permit through the OCPM (Form E - activité accessoire). This allows them to work a maximum of 15 hours per week during term time and full-time during holidays. Authorisation to work is conditional on the school or university attesting that the applicant is a student in good standing at a Swiss university or technical college, that the work will not delay graduation, and that working conditions and salaries are respected.

2. OBLIGATIONS OF THE EMPLOYER

In Switzerland, the working relationship between employer and intern is subject to Swiss labour law. Hence, the usual terms of employment apply. Employers are therefore required to comply with the obligations set out in articles 319 and following of the Code of Obligations and Labour Code.

Moreover, employers must fulfil their obligations with regard to social insurance and work-related insurance as set out in the relevant federal and cantonal laws. These obligations consist in paying the employer's mandatory contributions to AVS/AI/APG (old-age, invalidity, and loss of income insurance schemes), an occupational and non-occupational accident insurance scheme, and an occupational pension fund.

a. Compensation

If the work performed by the intern benefits the employer, then the relationship is considered a work contract according to the Swiss Code of Obligations. Consequently, the intern must be compensated. If the employer’s sector of activity is not regulated by a standard contract, collective agreement, or accepted practice, the principle of contractual freedom applies, meaning that the parties are free to determine the amount of compensation.

However, by analogy with requirements for interns from non-EU/EFTA countries, a minimum salary of CHF 2,600 is recommended for all types of internship, on the understanding that a portion of this amount can be paid in kind (housing, meals, etc.).

b. Social insurance and accident insurance

As a salaried employee, the intern must be registered with all mandatory social insurance schemes (see FAQ "Which social insurances are obligatory in Switzerland?"). In some circumstances, however, social insurance contributions are optional. If the intern's total income in a given calendar year is below CHF 2'300, social insurance contributions are deducted only if the intern requests it. Similarly, no social insurance payments are deducted if the intern has not yet entered their 18th year.

In principle, an intern's salary is subject to Occupational pension fund (LPP) contributions only when the contract is for longer than three months, the intern receives a monthly salary of more than CHF 1762 from the same employer, and the intern is over the age of 17 (LPP art. 2 and 7 and OPP2 art. 1j - b).

Accident insurance: According to Article 1a of the Accident Insurance Act (LAA) all employees, including interns, apprentices and volunteers, must be insured by their employer for occupational and non-occupational accidents. Employers are required to register the intern with an accident insurance plan and pay the minimum premium defined by the LAA, even if the work performed by the intern is unpaid (OLAA art. 115, para. 1-b).

3. OBLIGATIONS OF THE INTERN

a. Health insurance

Interns must take out a Swiss healthcare plan within three months of the beginning of their stay. This requirement may be waived, if the internship is for less than three months and the intern has comparable healthcare cover from another country, which is valid in Switzerland.

For more information, please check the brochure "The compulsory health insurance in a nutshell" published by the Federal Office of Public Health.

4. The Internship Contract

Internship contracts fall under the same legal provisions as regular employment contracts (article 319 and following of the Swiss Code of Obligations - CO).

The contract must include the following information:

  • The objectives and nature of the work (intern's duties and responsibilities, work plan)
  • The duration of the contract (start and end dates)
  • Weekly working hours
  • Supervisor's name
  • Salary and benefits provided by the organisation (e.g. meals, reimbursement of transportation or housing costs, etc.) as well as the manner in which it will be paid
  • Conditions for issuing a certificate at the end of the internship
  • Names of the parties to the contract (three-way contract)