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.
How has the legal market changed since you first started practising?
Specialisation in the legal profession is much more important now than it was 30 years ago. This has allowed for a highly qualified service for the special and individual needs of the clients. We also face laws that are more restrictive than in the past, due to the more restrictive attitude to international matters that is faced worldwide.
What have been the biggest challenges for corporate immigration practitioners in Switzerland during the extraordinary year of 2020?
The biggest challenge for immigration practitioners in Switzerland in 2020 is the restrictions in connection with the coronavirus pandemic. The visa rules in some countries are very hard and provisions in various countries change rapidly; the quarantine rules are changing every day and they are internationally not coordinated. Some people are frightened of seeing other people in person, travelling has become very difficult or is no longer possible. Nobody could imagine that the behaviour of people could change so quickly and drastically. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic is extraordinary and has happened very quickly.
To what extent will the coronavirus pandemic have a long-term impact on global mobility programmes and the corporate culture of international assignments?
People may see travelling differently in the future years. Nobody knows whether digital communication (eg, Zoom, Skype) will remain the main form of communication. We also see that the limited number of work and residence permits are often not needed. Nobody can anticipate whether that will lead to more restrictive immigration laws or to a more severe battle for talents. However, at the moment, no new laws are being elaborated as the politicians and the authorities are trying to challenge the pandemic successfully and hopefully quickly.
How does Vischer AG distinguish itself from competitors in the field?
VISCHER AG is based in the three most important economic cities in Switzerland: Zurich, Basel and Geneva. We are a full-service economic law firm (eg, corporate, M&A, finance, litigation, taxes and litigation) and can therefore provide all legal fields a company looking to be established in Switzerland needs. Many clients want to establish a business in Switzerland, in the middle of Europe. We can advise such companies on choosing for their purpose the best location, setting up a subsidiary or branch, helping them to get work and residence permits, and advise them on tax planning. Starting a new business in a foreign country is always a difficult task with many unknown problems. VISCHER AG with many specialised attorneys helps to solve these issues in a successful, quick and holistic way.
What corporate immigration developments in Switzerland should foreign practitioners be following and why?
Switzerland has from an immigration side two important and actual developments:
The most important issue in the coming months is Brexit. Switzerland has two types of work and residence permit laws: (1) Nationals of the European Union (EU) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and (2) nationals from other countries. UK nationals have as a member country from the EU the legal right to get a work and residence permit until the UK definitely leaves the EU (end of 2020). The British and the Swiss governments are at present negotiating a mutual agreement on immigration to keep an easy possibility for new permits. The outcome of these negotiations isn’t known yet.
The relationship between Switzerland and the European Union is under negotiation. On one hand, Switzerland and the Swiss population want to keep the free movement of persons with the European Union as it is now. On the other hand, the commission of the EU wants to establish a framework agreement covering all issues in the relationship of the EU and Switzerland. Both parties accept such an agreement. However, some important articles are still under negotiation. If the parties do not find a common solution and if the agreement will not be signed it is possible that the European Union terminates the existing agreements it has with Switzerland. Such termination is unlikely, but it would have an immense influence on Swiss immigration.
How has your term as president of the Swiss Bar Association enhanced your practice?
My term as president of the Swiss Bar Association didn’t enhance my practice as an immigration lawyer directly. As president of the Swiss Bar Association I often worked on legal developments and new laws and regulations in various fields of laws, the ones which at the moment have politically the biggest impact. In this function, I never discussed or worked with immigration issues. However, the presidency gave many opportunities to discuss important issues with important persons within the authority.
How do you anticipate the Swiss legal market changing in the next five years? How might this affect your practice?
In the next five years, lawyers in Switzerland will become even more specialised. On the other hand, the competition between law firms and auditing firms will be harder, as the auditors provide also legal services. We also face other service providers (such as relocation agencies) who are pushing harder in the legal business of immigration as they want to be seen as the professionals who can solve any relocation issue, including immigration matters. Law firms solving immigration issues will also face sinking fees.
You have enjoyed a very distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?
In the next few years, I would like to position VISCHER’s immigration team as the main immigration provider in Switzerland. Our team existing of experienced and younger lawyers, of very motivated paralegals and of tax experts will achieve that.