Switzerland to limit Romanian, Bulgarian workers

A file photo dated 09 February 2016 of a poster reading: 'Nein No Non' campaigning against the 'Enforcement Initiative in Zurich, Switzerland. [EPA/ENNIO LEANZA]

Switzerland will curb Bulgarian and Romanian citizens’ access to its labour market for the next 12 months, the government said yesterday (10 May), amid increased migration from those countries after limits were lifted last June.

The Swiss cabinet, whose struggle with immigration from the European Union intensified after a 2014 referendum in which the public demanded that quotas be imposed, will cap the number of five-year residence permits for Romanians and Bulgarians at 996.

While the free movement of workers between Switzerland and the European Union is largely guaranteed through bilateral agreements, a so-called “safeguard clause” lets the Swiss impose unilateral limits if migrant numbers exceed certain thresholds.

Romanian and Bulgarian labourers, who have enjoyed free movement since June 2016, topped the threshold last year, with their numbers in Switzerland rising by a net 3,300, about double the increase from 2015.

“Since introduction of full freedom of movement, Romanians and Bulgarian workers have been increasingly coming for seasonal jobs in sectors with higher-than-average unemployment rates,” the Swiss cabinet said. “The government is employing one of the tools at its disposal to control migration.”

Around 14,330 Romanians and 8,112 Bulgarians live in Switzerland, government data show. Switzerland’s population of 8.4 million is about a quarter foreign.

EU regrets

This is not the first time Switzerland has enacted such limits. In 2013, for instance, it applied similar restrictions to eight European countries including Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

MEPs blast Switzerland over workers quota, taxi restrictions

The European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution yesterday (24 May), “highly regretting” the recently-introduced Swiss quotas for workers from the eight Central European countries which joined the EU in 2004. MEPs also blasted Berne for not allowing German and Austrian taxis to take passengers from Zurich airport.

On Wednesday, the European Commission said it regretted the latest Swiss move, because the number of EU citizens seeking residency in Switzerland as a whole is actually falling.

Net migration to Switzerland slowed for a third consecutive year in 2016. Around 143,100 immigrants arrived, down nearly 5% from the previous year, while some 78,000 foreigners left, an increase of 5.6%.

Romanian State Secretary George Ciamba also said Switzerland’s new limits were unfortunate.

“This is taking place in the context of a relatively small number of Romanians who have applied for “B” permits in the last year and runs contrary to the contribution of the Romanian community in Switzerland,” according to the Romanian foreign ministry’s website, referring to the five-year residence permits.

Swiss-EU ties are being scrutinised for hints of what Britain might expect as it negotiates the terms of its divorce from the EU.

In the wake of Switzerland’s 2014 vote in favour of quotas that would have violated bilateral accords with the EU, the Swiss parliament last year dodged a conflict with Brussels by adopting a less strict system under which unemployed locals would be given preference when hiring.

Swiss did not weigh consequences of referendum, EU says

The Swiss may not have weighed up all the consequences of voting in a referendum for immigration quotas for EU citizens, an EU official said yesterday (10 February).

Switzerland dodges clash with EU over immigration

Switzerland skirted a direct clash with the European Union over immigration curbs on Friday (2 September) when a parliamentary panel rejected the government’s threat to impose unilateral quotas on foreigners next year in favour of a compromise.

The broader issue remains, however, with anti-immigration members of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) pursuing a new referendum to put a halt to the free movement of EU workers.

Switzerland gets first penalty for immigration vote

The European Union said yesterday (16 February) it had postponed negotiations with Switzerland on its participation in multibillion-dollar research and educational schemes, after Berne said it could not sign in its present form an agreement to extend the free movement of people to Croatia, the newest EU member. 

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