Swiss voters back quotas on immigration from EU

State narrowly backs motion to set upper limit on number of foreigners immigrating from EU

Posters in Switzerland in advance of a nationwide vote today on whether to introduce annual quotas on the number of residence permits granted to citizens of the EU. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Posters in Switzerland in advance of a nationwide vote today on whether to introduce annual quotas on the number of residence permits granted to citizens of the EU. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

 

Fifteen years after Switzerland voted to introduce European-wide free movement laws, the country voted today to cap immigration from the European Union.

The country of eight million narrowly voted in favour of a motion to set an upper limit on the number of foreigners immigrating from the European Union.

Final results indicated that 50.3 per cent voted in favour of the referendum, with voters in the German and Italian-speaking areas in the east of the country voting in favour of the motion, and those in the French-speaking west of the country opposing the motion.

The vote is likely to generate a cool response from Brussels, which has already criticised Swiss moves to alter free movement rules.

It is estimated that one in five workers in Switzerland are foreign, while thousands of workers from France, Germany and Italy travel across the border each day to work. Switzerland has one of the highest levels of immigration in the developed world, according to the OECD.

Pressure on housing availability, particularly in cities such as Geneva and Zurich, prompted the government to introduce a 12-month limit on residence permits on EU citizens last year, a move that was criticised by the union.

As with many countries in Europe, anti-immigration sentiment has been on the rise in Switzerland, with parties, including the influential Swiss People’s Party, supporting a cap on immigration.

Those in favour of tighter restrictions argue that the number of immigrants far outweighs the number of people leaving the country, with net immigration now estimated to have reached an average of 70,000 per year.

Business groups have strongly criticised the proposed change in immigration laws, arguing that it will hurt the Swiss economy. In a country that has a highly-developed level of research and development activity, Switzerland has traditionally needed skilled migrants to fill jobs.

Foreigners are also responsible for a large number of start-up companies in the country.