Urs Haegi leads the immigration team at Vischer, one of the leading Swiss business law firms with offices in Zurich, Basel and Geneva. In his long career Urs Haegi has advised business owners and their companies coming into Switzerland in immigration, corporate and tax matters. He was managing partner of Vischer from 2006 to 2011; president of the Zurich Bar Association in 2009 and 2010; and president of the Swiss Bar Association from 2017 to 2019.
What inspired you to pursue a legal career?
Being an attorney-at-law allows me to work on various and always changing matters with many different people and companies, often internationally. I can help these companies and people to solve their issues and to become better and more successful in their businesses.
What do you enjoy most about working in immigration law?
Working in immigration law forces me and my team to deal with not only immigration law, but also many tax, employment and complex company matters. The immigration work is very international as the clients have their origins in many different countries.
How has technology shaped the field of immigration law since you started practising?
Digitalisation has an immense influence on any work in a law firm. Switzerland has a very cantonal and therefore federal organisation, but we normally have to work with cantonal instances in spite of the fact that the laws are federal. Therefore, the degree of digitalisation is not yet very high. Even today, many of the permit applications are done by printed forms. However, there is more and more electronic communication, and there will be many changes and digital developments in the next years.
What qualities do clients look for in an effective immigration lawyer?
Clients who come to the corporate immigration team at Vischer just want to work and provide their services in Switzerland; therefore, they want a quick and successful procedure. The main goal is to obtain a work and residence permit. They do not want lengthy procedures before courts but quick and positive decisions.
What would you say are currently the greatest challenges for corporate clients trying to navigate the Swiss immigration system and how do you ensure you are prepared to help tackle them?
The immigration procedure and possibility to get a work and residence permit is quite different for nationals from the European Union and the countries of the European Free Trade Union (together the EEC) on one hand, and nationals from other countries on the other hand. Nationals from EEC countries have a legal right to a work and residence permit for Switzerland if they are employed by a legal Swiss entity, by so-called bilateral agreements between the EU and Switzerland.
For nationals from other countries the procedure and conditions are quite different. Any permit for these foreigners is limited by quotas issued by the federal government, and is only given if no national from Switzerland or an EU/EFTA member state with a sufficient professional qualification can be found (Swiss priority). Additionally, qualification for the position (managers, specialists and other qualifications), high-level education (normally a master’s degree from a university), as well as salary and Swiss working conditions have to be met. The priority requirement is only waived for GATS transfers (according to the General Agreement on Trade in Services), if high-ranking employees are transferred to Switzerland via intra-group-transfers.
As head of the firm’s immigration team, what are your priorities regarding its development over the next five years?
The priorities for the Vischer immigration team in the next five years is to get the procedure smoother and quicker for any applicant and for any applying company. We strongly believe that any step towards digital permits all over Switzerland will help with this priority. The main goal is to reduce the costs for any applicant and nevertheless grant them a very professional service.
What advice would you give a younger lawyer looking to pursue a career in immigration law?
A young lawyer looking to pursue a career in immigration law needs a deep university education. Besides this, he or she needs to be very open-minded and think internationally. Immigration laws and the necessary preconditions change with the current political values. Therefore, the solutions to any case have to be found in a very open-minded and individual way.