Switzerland moves to reduce immigration from outside EU and EFTA

Switzerland moves to reduce immigration from outside EU and EFTA

Despite the ongoing shortage of workers, Switzerland will be looking to reduce the number of new residence permits given to those from outside the European Union (EU) and the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), a new report from national broadcaster SRF has suggested. Authorities in Swiss cantons and employers' associations said they were surprised by the proposal and called for the decision to be reversed.

Update: In a statement released on November 29, the Federal Council confirmed that it would not be reducing the number of new residence permits given to third-country nationals for the time being.

Fewer Swiss residence permits for third-country nationals in 2024

According to sources speaking to SRF, Justice Minister and Social Democratic Party Federal Councillor Elisabeth Baume-Schneider has submitted a proposal to the government that would see the number of new residence permits issued to so-called “third country nationals” reduced from 12.000 a year total to just 9.600. The roughly 2.000 permits a year earmarked for British nationals specifically will be scrapped, with UK citizens set to draw from the same pool of permits as everyone else.

For reference, "third-country nationals" refers to citizens from outside the European Union, European Economic Area and European Free Trade Association. Due to its binding agreement on migration with the European Union, the number of permits issued to those from the EU, EEA and EFTA will remain technically unlimited.

While a spokesperson from the Justice Department told the broadcaster that the government would make a decision on the number of permits “in the next few weeks”, SRF said it should be assumed that the rest of the government will respect Baume-Schneider’s decision as she controls the State Secretariat for Migration.

SVP election victory puts immigration to Switzerland in spotlight

Thanks to the Swiss People’s Party’s (SVP) victory at the most recent federal elections, the broadcaster argued that concerns about migration and calls to limit the number of new arrivals have been brought to the forefront of the debate. The announcement by Baume-Schneider is seen as a reaction to the SVP’s success in the polls.

The decision has been opposed by Swiss cantons, which argue that the move would hurt the economy. Speaking to SRF, Uri government councillor Urban Camenzind said that “from the cantons, from the economics directors, we cannot celebrate and are also a bit surprised.”

Swiss businesses warn of impact on economy

Daniella Lützelschwab, from the Swiss Employers’ Association, said that he was disappointed by the decision, arguing that the highly restrictive immigration rules already placed on third-country nationals mean that only highly skilled and sought-after migrants are able to apply in the first place. Losing this stream of employees therefore would only hurt firms looking for specialist talent and not address wider concerns about migration.

She predicted that the decision would only add to the skills shortage within the Swiss economy, making the point that if companies are unable to fill jobs, entrepreneurs may start to pull out of Switzerland.

Unions hope decision will lead to more integration

The change is not without its supporters though. Daniel Lampart from the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions told SRF that the plan represents an opportunity to better integrate the migrant and refugee populations that are already resident in Switzerland. 

He claimed that many highly skilled refugees already present in Switzerland are currently unable to realise their full potential and that a reduction in the import of skilled labour from abroad could force companies and officials to give them more support. Therefore, the decision to reduce the number of permits was likely made “to the dismay of the cantons and the economy, but possibly also with a view to better-integrating refugees,” concluded SRF’s Oliver Washington.

Thumb image credit: Michael Derrer Fuchs /

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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