Today, the Federal Council confirmed its decisions of 4 December 2015. It will pursue the ongoing discussions with the EU and continue to seek a mutually agreed solution, with a view also to safeguarding the bilateral approach. Meanwhile, an agreement has yet to be reached. The aim is to rapidly resume the consultations with the EU at the latest following the referendum on whether the United Kingdom will remain in the EU. If the negotiations are able to reach an agreement, the Federal Council will submit their outcome in an appropriate way for debate in Parliament. In order to meet the deadline stipulated by the constitutional provisions on controlling immigration the Federal Council has now proposed a unilateral safeguard clause in the draft legislation.
Unilateral safeguard clause regarding people from EU/EFTA countries
The proposed unilateral safeguard clause provides for annual limits to be set by the Federal Council on the number of permits issued to people from EU and EFTA countries if immigration exceeds a certain threshold. When setting these limits the Federal Council will take Switzerland’s general economic interests into account as stipulated in the Federal Constitution, and consider the recommendations of a newly established immigration commission. It will also take measures to better utilise the resident workforce and adjust the implementation of the legislation on foreign nationals where necessary in order to reduce the demand for additional foreign workers.
Measures against abuse of the welfare system
The amendment of the Foreign Nationals Act also includes measures to better implement the existing FMPA. Specifically, foreign jobseekers would not be entitled social welfare in Switzerland. The draft legislation also states the criteria to decide at what point a person no longer in employment loses their right to reside in Switzerland. Furthermore, it provides for the exchange of data between authorities when someone claims supplementary benefits.
In addition, the Federal Council has approved an additional dispatch on the integration provisions in the Foreign Nationals Act. The Federal Council is proposing further measures in the asylum sector that add to the previously approved initiative to better utilise Switzerland’s resident workforce. The measures are intended to make it easier for people allowed to remain in Switzerland to access employment, by simplifying the approval procedure or abolishing the requirement to pay the special charge to reimburse costs incurred in the asylum procedure.
FMPA to be extended to Croatia
The Federal Council also adopted the dispatch to Parliament on the extension of the FMPA to Croatia. Croatia has been an EU member state since 1 July 2013, which is why the free movement of persons between Switzerland and the EU will also apply to Croatia in future. Protocol III regarding this issue was signed today and submitted to Parliament for approval. The protocol will be ratified, meaning implementation will become legally binding, when a solution compatible with the FMPA has been found.
The signing of Protocol III and its deliberation in Parliament are important for two reasons. First of all, they create the condition that Croatia can be treated equally to the other EU member states. Second, they represent an important step towards full association for Switzerland in the Horizon 2020 research framework programme. If the protocol is not ratified until February 2017 Switzerland would only be left with third country status in this research programme, retroactively as from 1 January 2017. This is essential for Switzerland as an economic and research location. Swiss researchers would subsequently only be able to take part in existing projects as third-country partners without EU funding, which would also be detrimental to the reputation of Switzerland’s research hub.
Eurozone crisis has had little impact on immigration in Switzerland
In addition, the Federal Council took note of a study on the impact of the Eurozone crisis on immigration in Switzerland. According to the study, people coming to Switzerland because of the Eurozone crisis are mainly from the countries hit hardest and which were already emigration countries before the crisis (Portugal, Spain, Italy). In Switzerland they mostly work in seasonal sectors, such as hospitality and construction, which primarily employ low-skilled workers. Given these results, the promotion of the domestic potential in these sectors is of particular importance.
The Federal Council also decided to take additional measures to combat labour market abuses through an action plan designed to further improve the implementation of the existing support measures. It also adopted the dispatch to amend the Code of Obligations (extension of standard contracts that stipulate minimum wages).
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