The Swiss government has proposed giving priority to immigrants from regions covered by the European Union and the European Free Trade Association.This content was published on March 8, 2002 - 18:03
Under a controversial bill presented on Friday by the justice minister, Ruth Metzler, people from outside the EU or EFTA, including residents of Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, would only get permission to immigrate to Switzerland if they have special skills or qualifications.
The move is aimed at enshrining the current practice in law, but Metzler said the conditions would be reviewed at a later stage. Switzerland's immigration policy could change, depending on the situation in the EU.
The draft law, which still needs approval by parliament, would clarify the legal process and promote integration by easing the free movement of labour and allowing the immigrants to bring their families with them.
"It is important for foreign residents to find a place in our society and get an incentive to integrate," Metzler said.
The government wants to crack down on illegal immigration and human trafficking as well as on marriages of convenience.
Unskilled labour quota
Unskilled labourers from countries outside EU and EFTA currently vie for 4,000 annual and 5,000 seasonal work permits.
Eduard Gnesa of the Federal Aliens Office said it was up to cantonal authorities to draw the line between skilled and unskilled labour. A computer expert would most likely be considered a skilled labourer.
But a chef could equally qualify for this status in some areas, depending on the labour market conditions, he added.
Besides excluding citizens of the EU and EFTA member states, the draft law does not affect asylum seekers or those with refugee status.
Under a bilateral agreement between Switzerland and Brussels, an agreement to ease immigration for EU citizens is expected to take effect by June.
But the terms of the accord would have to be renegotiated if the EU is extended to include more countries in central and southern Europe.
The new bill has prompted mixed reaction. The right wing Swiss People's Party was critical, saying such a llaw would lead to an increase in the number of foreigners in Switzerland.
A party statement described the proposal as inflexible and harmful for the economy.
Human rights groups opposed the proposed measures, saying they are discriminatory and target unskilled labour.
The groups last year launched a campaign in Switzerland to support foreigners considered to be illegal immigrants.
The Trades Union Federation said it was wrong to base immigration on job qualifications. It called on the government to set statutory minimum wages and improved working conditions.
Nearly 20 per cent foreigners
Justice Minister Metzler pointed out that voters rejected a proposal by the People's Party to limit the number of foreigners in Switzerland to 18 per cent in a nationwide ballot in September 2000.
The number of citizens carrying a foreign passport currently stands at 19.4 per cent, according to figures by the Federal Statistics Office.
by Urs Geiser
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