With a narrow majority of 50.3 percent, Swiss voters decided to add a new article to the Federal Constitution that re-introduces immigration quotas in regard to all types and categories of Swiss residence and work permits.
According to a 9 February 2014 press release from the Swiss Federal Council, on 9 February 2014, Swiss voters adopted the “Stop mass immigration” initiative (“Initiative gegen die Masseneinwanderung”) as initiated by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) amid growing concerns, in regard to, for instance, wage dumping, increased crime, rising rental and property costs, congested transportation networks, etc.
This verdict not only calls the bilateral agreement between Switzerland and the European Union (EU) into question – as a consequence of the so-called “Guillotine Clause,” entitling one party to unilaterally terminate the whole set of bilateral agreements if one agreement is violated – but also all other bilateral treaties with the EU (in the context of mobile work-forces (e.g., the Schengen Agreement).
The Swiss Federal Council now faces the challenge of turning the initiative into law and at the same time trying to save Switzerland’s bilateral agreements to the extent possible.
At this early stage it is difficult to know how this is going to affect non-Swiss workers who work or plan to work in Switzerland and employers (whether based in or outside Switzerland) who wish to employ such workers.
As a first reaction, EU representatives stated that they would examine the implications of the vote on the relationship with Switzerland based on the position of the Swiss Federal Council, which had urged citizens to reject the initiative. However, they emphasize that the principle of free movement of persons is a cornerstone of the EU and as such not negotiable.
Even now, the majority of work permit types are subject to a quota, namely the following:
In other words, currently only the following work permit types are not subject to quota:
The quotas are being set annually by the Swiss Federal Council and are allocated based on the “first come first serve” principle to applying employers. However, in 2013 as well as in 2012 only the quotas regarding EU/EFTA assignees became scant towards the end of the calendar year, whereas for all others they were in sufficient quantity.
For the time being Switzerland’s current immigration system remains fully in force and unchanged. However, the outcome of the vote obliges the Swiss Federal Council to mandate the parliament with elaborating a new article in the Federal Constitution based on the initiative and to enforce it within three years.
It may be some time before any real change takes place in practice. As per the Federal Council’s announcement on 12 February 2014, the current aim is to issue a step-by-step plan by June 2014 and release draft implementing legislation by year-end.
What exactly such changes will look like depends on the way the Federal Council turns the initiative into law and the outcome of the corresponding negotiations with the EU. In this regard, the initiative leaves some wiggle room to the Swiss government and, in particular, does not provide any (maximum) quota figures. Thus, at this early stage predictions cannot be made as to the impact or the outcome.
In any case, however, permits for cross-border commuters, dependents, and asylum seekers shall once again be subject to quota once the new article in the Swiss constitution is in place.
Through its constant contact with the federal and cantonal authorities, the KPMG Immigration Services Team will closely monitor any developments and endeavor to keep readers informed of anything relevant.
Medienmitteilungen, Der Bundesrat, 09.02.2014 -- Systemwechsel bei der Zuwanderung: Ja zur Volksinitiative "Gegen Masseneinwanderung" (Change in immigration system: Yes to popular initiative aimed at stopping mass immigration)
Medienmitteilungen, Der Bundesrat, 12.02.2014 -- Neues System für Zuwanderung: Bundesrat legt Schritte für Umsetzung fest
The information contained in this newsletter was submitted by the KPMG International member firm in Switzerland.
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