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SWITZERLAND - Referendum “Against Mass Immigration” Narrowly Accepted

In a national referendum on 9 February 2014, the Swiss people voted narrowly in favour of the initiative “Against Mass Immigration”, which proposes greater control of immigration into Switzerland through the introduction of quotas for European Union (EU) nationals. The quotas will have to be implemented by the Swiss government within the next three years. There are not likely to be any immediate consequences for current immigration cases.

Current Agreements

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union (EU) or of the European Economic Area (EEA). It is a member of the European Free Trade Association, along with Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein. There are, however, currently several bilateral agreements in place between Switzerland and the EU/EEA allowing free movement of Swiss nationals to the EEA and vice versa.

Background of the Referendum

For the past five years, Switzerland has experienced immigration of more than 77,000 people per year. Nearly 70% of the immigrants are EU/EEA/EFTA nationals.
Meanwhile, the proportion of foreign nationals in Switzerland has reached almost 25% of the total population of around 8 million inhabitants.

As covered by Peregrine, in 2013, the Swiss government enacted a “safeguard clause” in its agreement with the EU, provisionally extending existing immigration caps on eight newer EU member states to the seventeen older EU states for twelve months. After mid 2014, this safeguard clause can only be invoked against Bulgaria and Romania.

The “Against Mass Immigration” referendum was proposed by the nationalist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) which, along with the Green Liberal Party, has been campaigning to restrict immigration.

Current Requirements for EU Nationals

Currently, there are different rules in place for different "types" of EU nationals, depending on when the EU country in question became a member of the EU. The current procedures are as follows:

  • EU nationals from the 17 countries which joined the EU before 2004 (aka EU17) plus EFTA nationals, and EU nationals from the 8 countries which joined the EU in 2004 (aka EU8) may apply for permits under schemes for EU nationals. Quotas are currently in place, under the "safeguard clause", as noted above, but will be removed in June 2014 for EU17 nationals and May 2014 for EU8 nationals.
  • EU nationals from Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the EU in 2007 (aka EU2) are not currently able to use EU schemes in Switzerland and are treated like non-EU nationals for the purposes of immigration.
  • EU nationals from Croatia, which joined the EU in 2013, are also not currently able to use EU schemes in Switzerland and are treated like non-EU nationals for the purposes of immigration.

The Vote

The initiative was accepted by a majority of only 50.3% of the votes given. The winning margin was only about 19,500 votes with a relatively high turnout of 55.8% of eligible voters. Voting in favour of the anti-immigration proposals was highest in rural cantons, while Zurich, Geneva, Basel and other cities rejected the initiative. This map, produced by the Federal Bureau of Statistics, shows the proportion of “Yes” votes in the Swiss cantons.

What Does This Mean?

Before any practical changes can be made, the amendment must be implemented into Swiss legislation. Switzerland will enter into discussions with the EU about next steps as of course, Switzerland imposing restrictions on EU nationals moving to Switzerland will have a reciprocal effect on how Swiss nationals moving from Switzerland to EU member countries are treated.

Additionally, the Swiss parliament must give its approval to any changes. It is therefore unlikely that anything will change on a practical level for at least two or three years.

Action Items

  • Note the referendum results, and be aware that immigration procedures and policies are likely to be affected, but not for a few years.

Peregrine Immigration Management will keep you informed of any changes as they are announced.

This news alert was prepared using information provided by Convinus International Employment Solutions.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this immigration alert has been abridged from laws, court decisions, and administrative rulings and should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice. If you have specific questions regarding the applicability of this information, please contact Peregrine © 2021 Peregrine Immigration Management Ltd.