Swiss immigration solutions

Swiss immigration

Swiss immigration: How can February’s vote in favour of limiting immigration be implemented without harming relations with the European Union or damaging the economy? Many proposals have been made, but each seems to have more opponents than supporters.

Quotas, as stipulated in the wording of the initiative, are incompatible with the free movement of people agreed between Switzerland and the EU. Since Brussels has so far shown no willingness to compromise on this, Switzerland faces a dilemma: should the initiative be implemented through quotas (as its proposers want), which would endanger the country’s bilateral agreements with the EU?

Would it be better either to set no quotas at all or very large ones, although this would anger the initiative’s supporters? They have already threatened to call another vote in order to get the first one implemented should this happen. In short, solving the problem is like squaring the circle.

Swiss immigration

Plenty of ideas

The Swiss Association of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises has more specific suggestions. It has put forward a model for regulating which foreign workers could stay in Switzerland and for how long. Quotas should be allocated not by sector and canton, but by permit type, it suggests: skilled immigrants would be eligible for permits allowing them to stay and to settle, while less highly qualified people would get short-term permits.

The economic think tank Avenir Suisse would like to avoid fixed quotas for the moment. Instead, it thinks an upper limit to population growth should be set. Until at least 2020 immigration should be curbed by voluntary economic instruments, and by measures taken at a federal and cantonal level. This would preserve the free moment of people, it claims. Quotas would not be introduced before 2021, and then only if immigration had not fallen to the desired level.

The centre-right Conservative Democratic Party has suggested combining partial free movement, quotas and a maximum limit on immigration overall. Since Switzerland has a higher proportion of foreigners (23%) than any EU country apart from Luxembourg, the party says immigration should be limited to the EU average. Until then, complete free movement should apply.

A two-class system

One of the key ideas being brandished by the People’s Party to limit immigration is indeed to restrict the right to family reunification. In 2013 about 50,000 people came to Switzerland by virtue of this right – 32.2% of the new arrivals.

For Brand and his party, “anyone who comes to Switzerland on a short-term permit [less than one year, renewable] does not need to bring along his wife and children. So L permit holders will not be able to take advantage of family reunification. But for people who stay longer, this right will be guaranteed, as long as they can prove that they have sufficient finances.” In other words, the People’s Party is proposing a two-tier system, paying special attention to more qualified workers and those who have every chance of being able to integrate.

Swiss immigration

These provisions are also unlikely to please Brussels. Family reunification is in fact one of the pillars of free movement and the EU has never been willing to compromise on it, not even in the special case of Liechtenstein, which already has a quota system. The centre-left Social Democrats have already abandoned any thought of finding a solution to this intractable problem. As far as they are concerned, the initiative and the bilateral agreements are “totally incompatible”. Claiming that voters were unaware of this before they cast their ballots in February, the Social Democrats are making noises about calling a “corrective vote”.

Info from Peter Siegenthaler and Stefania Summermatter, and agencies

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Skip Cole is the director of the Swiss property website (, the largest online shop window for properties for sale in Switzerland.

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