The government has defended its immigration policy giving European Union citizens preference over people from other countries. However, a report moots reforms to hire more Swiss specialists to ease problems in the housing market.
“Immigration over the past few years has had a positive impact on the economic development of Switzerland and boosted prosperity,” said a cabinet statement published on Wednesday.
“Taking into considerations all the advantages and drawbacks, the government believes the dual immigration system has been successful,” it goes on to conclude: “Continuing this policy is the best way to face the challenges of the future.”
Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said immigration mirrored the success of the Swiss economy.
The findings are largely in line with previous reports and statements, notably by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco), published in May.
Following a nationwide vote, Switzerland gradually opened up its labour market to EU citizens in 2002. The move is part of a series of bilateral accords with the 27-nation bloc.
It led to a sharp increase in immigration, prompting opposition particularly by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party which has launched an initiative aimed at limiting immigration and setting fixed annual quotas for labour and asylum seekers.
In its report, the government acknowledges a number of problems and suggests reforms of the labour market, education, social insurance and housing.
The head of the Federal Migration Office, Mario Gattiker, called on the business community to contribute to integrating foreign staff into society.
Responding to three separate parliamentary interventions, the cabinet also moots promoting non-profit housing projects to ease the pressure on property market.
It also pledges to support proposals to improve family-friendly labour conditions to boost the number of highly-skilled staff already living in Switzerland, thereby discouraging companies from hiring employees outside the country.
The cabinet on Wednesday came out against the anti-immigration drive by the People’s Party and asked the justice ministry to prepare a draft to parliament.
“Terminating the free movement of people agreement would have serious consequences for the Swiss economy which earns every second franc in the EU,” Sommaruga told a news conference.
The proposal is neither compatible with the accord between Switzerland and the EU on the free movement of people nor is it in line with a convention with the member states of the European Free Trade Association (Efta), according to a justice ministry statement.
“The initiative undermines the good bilateral relations with our European partners,” it adds.
The government also warns against damaging Switzerland’s humanitarian credentials by trying to curb the number of asylum seekers.
The People’s Party has slammed the government’s decision on the initiative as “wrong and out of touch with reality”. The immigration report is criticised as “superficial” and, “another whitewash”.
For their part, the centre-left Social Democratic Party has accused the government of turning a blind eye to wage dumping on the labour market.
The necessary signatures to force a nationwide ballot on the issue were handed in last February, but parliament still has to discuss the proposal before a date is set for the public vote.
However, the Swiss government in April decided to re-introduce labour quotas for eight eastern EU countries for at least 12 months, causing international protests and criticism by the European parliament.
There were 7,952,600 people living in Switzerland at the end of 2011.
The figure is up 82,400 - or 1% - on 2010.
The influx peaked with a total of more than 90,000 in 2008, before it dropped slightly.
Of the total number of permanent residents, 1,815,800 were foreigners.end of infobox
Common labour market
The labour accord with 15 EU as well as three Efta member states took effect in 2002 following Swiss voters’ approval in a nationwide vote.
It is considered a key bilateral accord for non- EU member Switzerland with the 27-nation bloc.
The treaty was extended to ten new EU member states two years later, gradually introducing free access to each other’s labour markets.
In 2009 the accord was extended to an additional two new EU member countries in eastern Europe following another nationwide ballot.
Under the accord, Switzerland and all EU and Efta countries benefit from unlimited access to each other’s labour markets by 2016.end of infobox
swissinfo.ch and agencies