Swiss set immigration limits on eastern EU countries | News | DW | 18.04.2012
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Swiss set immigration limits on eastern EU countries

Citizens of some eastern European Union countries will have a tougher time coming to Switzerland after the country reinstated a quota for immigrants from eight countries.

The Swiss government elected to reinstitute a limit on immigrants from eastern European Union countries on Wednesday in response to steadily rising numbers of migrant workers streaming into the country, where the economy is doing relatively well compared to the rest of the world and national unemployment is around 3 percent.

Switzerland's cabinet said it is invoking a clause it its agreement with the EU regarding the free movement of people.

"In invoking the safeguard clause, the Federal Council is seeking to apply one of the means at its disposal to control the immigration flow into Switzerland," it said in a statement.

The quota will affect people from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary, limiting the number of permits for citizens of those countries to 2,000.

Switzerland can impose the quota when the number of permits granted increases by more then 10 percent against the average of the previous three years. Last year, 6,000 permits were granted, but in the previous three years - when a similar quota had been implemented - an average of 2,075 were issued.

The current quota will come into effect on May 1.

Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy coordinator, was critical of the decision, saying Switzerland's agreement with the EU did not allow it to pick and choose specific countries to restrict migrant permits.

"This measure is neither economically justified by the labor market situation nor by the number of EU citizens seeking residence in Switzerland," she said.

The Swiss People's Party, which is part of the government, advocates stricter controls on immigration to protect Swiss' workers jobs and fight crime.

mz/pfd (Reuters, dpa)