The assembly of the Swiss Abroad has come out in favour of tightening the asylum and foreigners laws which go to a nationwide vote next month.
Meeting in Basel the assembly also criticised the slow progress in introducing electronic voting and the closure of several consulates in Switzerland's diplomatic network.
The president of the Swiss Abroad Council, Georg Stucky, said the result of the consultative vote on the asylum and foreigners laws – 38 votes in favour, 26 against –came as a surprise.
"I expected the result to be closer. I don't ever remember such an emotional and lively debate in the assembly over the past 15 years," Stucky told a news conference on Friday.
During the debate the opponents argued the new laws went against Switzerland's humanitarian tradition and United Nations children's conventions, while supporters pointed out the country needed tougher laws to keep criminals away and stem worldwide migration.
Thérèse Meyer, parliamentarian for the Christian Democratic Party, said Switzerland must give a message that it was not willing to take every immigrant.
Parliament approved the laws at the end of last year, but a coalition of centre-left political parties, the churches and aid groups collected enough signatures to force a nationwide ballot.
Most political parties and the cabinet have recommended a "yes" vote on September 24.
Remo Gysin, a Social Democratic parliamentarian, admitted he had hoped for a different outcome of the assembly ballot.
"The discussions showed there is widespread concern about immigrants across Europe. It appears we are up against a very strong coalition of the centre-right and the rightwing."
The ballot came on the eve of a speech by the justice minister, Christoph Blocher, to the annual Congress of the Swiss Abroad.
Many speakers also criticised the foreign ministry for ordering the closure of Swiss consulates around the globe, notably in Dresden, Germany, and Naples in Italy.
They called for a reassessment of cost-saving measures which, they argued, were undermining the position of Swiss expatriates. Instead they proposed hiring more honorary consuls.
Rudolf Wyder, director of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), urged parliament to speed up the introduction of electronic voting.
He welcomed the trials with e-voting in several Swiss regions over the past few years but deplored that Switzerland was no longer a pioneer.
The assembly heard calls for the cantonal authorities to coordinate and centralise their voters' registers to ensure that the different forms of e-voting could be set up within the next four years.
Ahead of the 2007 parliamentary elections the Council of the Swiss Abroad approved a manifesto to try to boost the number of voters.
The platform aims to increase the role of the expatriate community in Swiss politics, according to Stucky.
swissinfo, the multimedia internet platform of the Swiss Broadcasting Organisation, is joining forces with the expatriate community. It is planning to offer a chat room for voters abroad and Swiss politicians.
There are currently just over 100,000 Swiss expatriates – about 21% of those eligible to vote - who have registered to take part in ballots.
swissinfo, Urs Geiser in Basel
Registered Swiss expatriates: (end 2005)
Total: 634,216 (+11,159 up on 2004)
Europe: 395,397, mostly France and Germany
South Pacific: 27,229
The Swiss Abroad Council (assembly) is a body of elected and appointed members, and is the highest decision-making institution of the expatriate community.
It has currently 148 members, some who also live in Switzerland.
The assembly represents the interest of the Swiss abroad community and meets twice a year.