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EU relations Swiss opt for ‘Euro-compatible’ scheme to limit immigration

The aim of the plan is to strike a balance between limiting immigration while skirting EU free movement accords. 


Swiss employers wishing to recruit from abroad may first have to search for candidates among unemployed locals, and justify any rejections in writing. The Senate voted in favour of the scheme on Thursday to advance Switzerland’s initiative against mass immigration.

Swiss lawmakers are seeking a solution to curb immigration, as voted for in a binding 2014 referendum, but without setting quotas, which would put Switzerland into direct conflict with the European Union and its bilateral accords on the free movement of people.

Under the proposed scheme backed by the Senate, certain employers would be required to announce vacancies to Swiss employment offices, and to interview people who have registered as unemployed. If these candidates are rejected, the employers must justify their decisions in writing.

The aim of the plan is to walk the extremely fine line between advancing the implementation of the embattled mass immigration initiative, while simultaneously  preserving bilateral relations with the EU – including key agreements on research and trade – which could be severed if Switzerland were to enact immigration quotas.

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Aargau parliamentarian Philipp Müller, who came up with the plan, said it is meant to be a “targeted solution that is not expensive or bureaucratic, unlike quotas”.  

Only professions and regions touched by an unemployment rate higher than the national average would held to these rules. Examples might include the restaurant and construction sectors, which have unemployment rates between 9% and 18%, compared with the national average of just over 3%. That means that at most, the plan would apply to about 1% of annual recruitment procedures, Müller argued. But affected employers could be fined up to CHF40,000 ($39,500) if they fail to follow the procedure.

Nevertheless, conservative opponents of the plan – who favour stricter limits on immigration – have called it a “bureaucratic monster”.

“What is important for the European Commission is that there is no discrimination between Swiss citizens and EU citizens,” said a European Commission spokeswoman at a press conference in Brussels on Thursday.

Switzerland’s lower House of Representatives, which had already agreed to a less strict immigration proposal to give preference to local workers, must now vote on the new plan next Monday before it can be implemented. The issue must be concluded during the current winter session of parliament in order to meet the February 9, 2017 deadline fixed by the 2014 referendum result.

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