After 29 hours of debate, the House of Representatives has finally approved – by a narrow majority – a series of measures amending the country’s immigration laws.This content was published on June 17, 2004 - 13:58
The controversial legislation aims to curb illegal immigration, crack down on abuse in the labour market but also promote integration.
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted by 64 votes to 48 in favour of the proposals, which still have to be debated by the Senate.
The measures are aimed at amending the current law, known as the “foreigners law”, which dates back to 1931.
But the new law has caused controversy, with the rightwing Swiss People’s Party arguing that it is too lax and some members of the Left maintaining that it is too harsh.
In the end it was supported by the centre-left Social Democrats and the centre-right Christian Democrats, despite their reservations.
There are currently 1.5 million foreigners in Switzerland, making up a fifth of the population. Around 46 per cent of these are from outside the EU and European Free Trade Area (Efta).
Doris Leuthard, interim president of the Christian Democrat Party, said it was important that integration had been made a priority in the new law.
“It must be a goal to let foreigners take part in society, to ensure equal opportunities and give them future perspectives,” she said.
Under the proposals, families of immigrants will find it easier to be reunited in Switzerland, and the issuing of residency permits may be accompanied by state-funded language courses.
But other measures are aimed at tightening the system, such as the introduction of a two-tier immigration policy. This means that priority will be given to EU and Efta nationals on the Swiss labour market.
Otherwise, immigration will be limited to highly skilled labour and people with special qualifications - mainly in the agricultural, building, tourist and health sectors.
But moves to reintroduce seasonal permits – six-month permits for seasonal work such as strawberry picking – were rejected.
The new law also contains tough measures designed to crack down on people who try to abuse the system.
The Senate voted in favour of detaining illegal immigrants for up to six months – double the current time allowed – to allow the authorities more time to prepare for deportation.
Also voted through were fines of up to SFr5,000 ($4,000) per person for airlines caught carrying foreigners without identity papers.
Under the law, local authorities can refuse to marry a couple if they think it is a marriage of convenience.
Both the Left and Right, except for the Christian Democrats, said they were not entirely satisfied by the outcome of the vote.
“It has some positive elements,” said the People's Party’s Hermann Weyeneth. “But the government's support for integration means that we are far away from our goals.”
Ruth-Gaby Vermot, a Social Democrat parliamentarian, also expressed dismay - but for different reasons.
“The law has been tightened far too much,” she said. "It assumes that every foreigner will abuse the system. This isn't the case at all."
Justice Minister Christoph Blocher is planning to table further adjustments to the new law before it goes before the Senate.
He wants even tougher penalties for illegal immigrants and foreigners who commit crime.
swissinfo, Christian Raaflaub
One in five Swiss residents is a foreign national.
One in four workers is a foreign national.
The construction industry and the health sector rely heavily on foreign workers.
Just over half the immigrants in Switzerland come from EU and Efta countries.
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