Voters in Switzerland Pass Measure to Restrict Immigration
On February 24, 2014, voters in Switzerland passed a popular referendum to amend Switzerland’s constitution and restrict immigration, reflecting a departure from the freedom of movement allowed European Union (EU) nationals under existing agreements. The Swiss Federal Council interpreted the referendum as a response to population growth, increased immigration, and an attempt to protect the local labor force.
The new provisions will impose restrictions on residence permits for foreign nationals by implementing a quota system. These quotas will impact cross-border commuters and asylum seekers. The new constitutional provisions require legislative action and further negotiation with the European Union before measures can be fully implemented.
Currently, Switzerland has a dual system for the admission of foreign workers: one system for EU nationals and one system for other workers. Gainfully employed nationals from EU or European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) states can benefit from agreements on the free movement of persons. Only a limited number of management level employees, specialists and other qualified employees are admitted from all other countries. The referendum reintroduces strict quotas for immigration from EU countries, contrary to the current Swiss-EU agreement on freedom of movement.
The provisions do not specify precise quota numbers nor do they clearly define procedures for the allocation of work permits. The Swiss Federal Council and Parliament have three years to implement the new system. The Agreement on Free Movement of Persons and other bilateral agreements will remain in force until new provisions are implemented.
The Swiss Federal Council intends to start negotiations with the European Union and put an implementation plan in place by the end of 2014. Gibney will provide updates regarding the implementation of these changes as they become available.
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