Published on People Move

Strict Immigration Curbs Rejected by Swiss Voters

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Thanks to 74 percent of Swiss voters and to all of the 26 cantons who voted against the referendum to introduce strict immigration quotas, I am now relieved.  If the referendum on November 30 by the environmentalist group Ecopop had been successful, I am not sure whether Switzerland would have let me return. The supporters of the referendum “’stop overpopulation – safeguard our natural environment”’ (see blog) sought to limit the annual net annual immigration to 0.2 percent of Switzerland’s resident population. This quota, representing about 16,000 people per year, is a fifth of the net immigration to Switzerland in recent years (an annual average of 81,500 immigrants from 2008 to 2013). The 0.2 percent curb would have applied to all migrants, including asylum seekers, people wanting to be reunited with family members already living in Switzerland, migrants looking for better job opportunities, some of the more than 730,000 Swiss abroad who would like to come back, or very rich individuals who would like to live in Switzerland because of lower taxes.  The latter group may be thankful to those 59 percent of Swiss voters who rejected another referendum from last weekend on whether to abolish lump-sum taxation in all 26 cantons (five cantons have already decided to abolish this tax regime).  Such tax privileges are accorded to wealthy private foreign nationals who take residence in Switzerland for the first time or after ten years of absence, but are not allowed to work in Switzerland.

The rejected Ecopop’s referendum was significantly more stringent than the ‘’Stop Mass Immigration” referendum approved by voters in February (see blog ).  The results of this weekend’s vote and the one from last February suggest that Switzerland, where 23 percent of the population are non-Swiss nationals (the fourth largest immigrant population in Europe), is surely not against immigration per se.  The electorate recognizes the benefits from migrants for the country, but is concerned about the level of immigration.  Hence Swiss people would like to have a management of migration.  The overwhelmingly rejection of the referendum this weekend, however, does not make it easier for the Swiss Government to work out the implementation of the February immigration vote without breaching Switzerland’s bilateral treaties (including the free movement of persons agreement) with the EU.   In case these negotiations are unsuccessful, a new referendum - “Get out of the Dead End – Against the Reintroduction of Quota for Immigrants” (launched today) - could be helpful.This referendum seeks to remove the article in Constitution that was introduced following the February referendum, which requires Switzerland to manage immigration flows autonomously.  For the poll to go ahead, the supporters of the new referendum (including a former Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey) need to gather 100,000 signatures by June 2016.


Hanspeter Wyss

Senior Program Officer, DECIG/KNOMAD, World Bank

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