Sommaruga defends EU immigration quota plan

The quotas will apply to cross-border workers and to any foreigners who stay more than four months in Switzerland Keystone

Swiss president Simonetta Sommaruga defended the cabinet’s plan for the implementation of the February 2014 vote on immigration quotas for EU workers. The plan will prevent seasonal workers from bypassing quotas, according to her.

This content was published on February 14, 2015 minutes and agencies

Speaking to Swiss public radio SRF on Saturday, she addressed the thorny issue of short-term stays. According to the plan presented by cabinet on Wednesday, the proposed immigration quotas will apply to cross-border workers and to any foreigners who stay more than four months in Switzerland.

The cabinet stuck to the four month threshold despite the option of raising it to 12 months. This move was criticised by Swiss businesses.

Sommaruga explained that the cabinet made this decision, as it did not want more seasonal workers, pointing to the possibility that those coming for short-term stays could end up overstaying illegally.

“We know that this status [seasonal worker] has had dramatic consequences: families, children, women had to hide for years,” she said.  In addition, the government wanted to prevent immigration restrictions being bypassed by short-term stays.

Sommaruga also defended the cabinet against criticisms made by Swiss People’s Party, who initiated the vote on immigration quotas last year. The conservative right party had accused the cabinet of almost handing the EU the right to veto any quota restrictions.  

Sommaruga retorted that if such a right to veto were to exist, “the initiators themselves created it”. According to her, the initiative text says that the accord can be adapted and renegotiated. “That is what we’re doing,” she said.

She added that it is the first time in a year that the EU has shown that it is prepared to discuss the quota issue. According to her, it is necessary from now onwards “to enter talks with a healthy amount of confidence and from a position of strength”.

Under the proposal, which has to be approved by parliament,  quotas will apply to cross-border workers, relatives of Swiss-based foreigners, refugees and non-working immigrants, such as retirees.

The government has until February 2017 to implement the requirements of the new constitutional article.

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