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FILE PHOTO: A Swiss flag is pictured next to the Jet d'Eau (water fountain), and the Lake Leman from the St-Pierre Cathedrale in Geneva, Switzerland, June 5, 2012. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo


By Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi

ZURICH (Reuters) - Net immigration to Switzerland from the European Union has fallen to its lowest level for 12 years, continuing a steady decline in immigration from nearby countries.

Nearly 6,480 more EU citizens settled in Switzerland than departed between April and June, according to data released on Monday by the State Secretariat for Migration, the lowest since the second quarter of 2005.

Immigration has been a hot-button topic since Swiss citizens in 2014 voted to limit arrivals from the EU, despite bilateral accords guaranteeing free movement for EU citizens in exchange for enhanced Swiss access to the EU single market.

Parliament last year skirted a clash with the bloc by adopting a new law giving local people first crack at open jobs, sidestepping demand for absolute limits.

In the first half of 2017, overall net immigration to Switzerland was down nearly 12 percent to 25,526, with net immigration from the EU down by more than a fifth.

Despite the declines, anti-immigration members of the Swiss People's Party (SVP) are pursuing a new referendum to try to halt free movement of EU workers.

Just over 2 million foreigners live in Switzerland, a quarter of the population. Some 68 percent hail from the EU or from Switzerland's fellow members of the European Free Trade Association: Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

(Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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