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The government of Switzerland announced Feb. 12, 2014, that it will institute quotas on the number of immigrants who are allowed to live and work in the country by the end of the year, after Swiss voters approved greater immigration controls in a national referendum.
The government, which opposed the measure, said an implementation plan could be ready by the end of June. It also plans to conference with the European Union (EU) over the referendum’s impact on the future of free trade agreements. Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but is a member of the European Free Trade Association and a signatory to several bilateral agreements with the EU allowing free movement of people and jobs.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that the referendum vote would have “serious consequences” for relations between Switzerland and the EU, which could include sanctions on movement for Swiss citizens and curtails on Swiss business development within the bloc. This reaction is exactly what the Swiss business community warned against when it opposed voting in favor of immigration restrictions.
‘Dissatisfaction’ over Immigration Levels
Immigration has become a polarizing issue across Europe in recent years, with more prosperous nations like France, the Netherlands, Germany and the U.K. debating immigration controls and specifically concerned about the influx of workers from economically weaker Eastern European countries. Bulgaria and Romania gained full access to EU job markets this year, and Croatia was admitted to the EU in 2013.
About 64,000 EU citizens have settled in Switzerland every year over the past decade, according to the Swiss Federal Office for Migration, giving Switzerland one of the highest proportions of foreign workers in Europe, accounting for about 27 percent of the country’s population of about eight million.
The vote “is a clear expression of the dissatisfaction of the Swiss population over the immigration issue,” said Toni Brunner, president of the Swiss People’s Party, which pushed the referendum. Brunner added that the Swiss result might lead other European countries to reconsider their own immigration policies.
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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