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Border tightening

th/pfd, AFP/dpa/ReutersMay 11, 2009

Switzerland may impose temporary limits on immigration for EU jobseekers, amid rising unemployment there.

Men working at a construction site
The number of EU citizens working in Switzerland has been on the riseImage: AP

Swiss newspapers report that the country could make use of temporary measures to cut back on foreign jobseekers in the Alpine nation.

"Backed by the latest job market and migration statistics, the government will soon make a decision on the possible activation of the protection clause," justice department spokesman Philippe Piatti told Swiss media on Sunday.

Government discussions on the issue are set to take place on Wednesday.

Switzerland has an agreement with the EU which allows European workers to take jobs in Switzerland without being subject to the country's strict work permit quota system.

Deal to prevent market over-saturation

An open Swiss Army knife with a USB stick and red map light
Switzerland's strong export-based economy has attracted many EU workersImage: VICTORINOX

But the deal also allows Switzerland to protect its domestic job market with temporary restrictions if immigration grows by more than 10 percent annually compared to the average rate in the previous three years.

Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf and Economics Minister Doris Leuthard were preparing a dossier to discuss a temporary limit on immigration from the EU, the justice department said.

If the clause is activated, immigration from the 15 older EU states, as well as Cyprus and Malta, would be limited to the average migration rate of the previous year plus five percent, for a maximum of two years.

Germany, Portugal most affected

Workers from Germany and Portugal make up the two biggest groups of EU migrants in Switzerland.

Swiss exports have been hard hit in the global slowdown. The country reported 3.5 percent unemployment in April, up from 3.4 percent in March, according to government statistics released last week. April's jobless total jumped 35.5 percent from the figure a year earlier, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs said.

Unemployment averaged 2.6 percent in 2008 compared with 2.8 percent in 2007.

Eurozone has most jobless

A person covered with the EU flag standing at the border between Switzerland and France
Swiss voters supported a motion to extend cooperation with the EU in FebruaryImage: dpa - Report

While the new unemployment rates are alarming for the Swiss, many EU countries are in much worse shape.

The European Commission last week released a new economic forecast predicting that the 27 member states would see unemployment rise to 10.9 percent in 2010.

The data are worse for the 16 countries using the euro. Spain has been particularly hard hit by the crisis, and is set to be burdened with an average unemployment figure this year of 17.4 percent.

EU and member state officials met in Prague last week at a specially convened employment summit in an attempt to come up with solutions to the growing problem.