Switzerland imposes new immigration limits on EU states

This week, the Swiss government announced a twelve month cap on the number of nationals from European Union (EU) states who can obtain long term residence permits to live in Switzerland.  The move has caused considerable controversy, since although Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, it is a signatory to the EU laws on freedom of movement.

What are the changes?

When Switzerland signed the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons in 1999, it negotiated a “safeguard clause.”  The clause permits Switzerland to impose limits on immigration until 31 May 2014, provided the number of residence permits issued to employed and self-employed persons from EU states exceeds the average for the three preceding years by at least 10 per cent.

In 2012, Switzerland introduced limits on the numbers of nationals from the eight newest EU countries, including Latvia, Hungary and Poland, who could apply for five year residence permits or “B-permits.” It has been announced that this cap will remain in force and from the 1st May 2013 there will be a quota of 2,180 B-permits available for nationals from EU-8 countries, over the next 12 months.

In addition, the Federal Office for Migration announced that a new 12 month cap will apply to the 17 other EU member states, taking effect from the 1st June 2013.  There will be around 53,700 B-permits available for nationals from countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Norway and Spain.

We strongly advise companies who are planning long term assignments to Switzerland to submit B-permit applications as early as possible before the quota is reached.

Reactions to the changes

There has been widespread criticism of the Swiss government”s decision to limit immigration, with the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton declaring in her statement “these measures disregard the great benefits that the free movement of persons brings to the citizens of both Switzerland and the EU.”

However, the Swiss government shows no sign of revising its plans, stating on Wednesday; “today the Federal Council addressed the question of how to deal with the negative consequences of immigration. It came to the conclusion that the safeguard clause is one of several measures which can help to make immigration more acceptable to society and compatible with its needs.”

For more information on Swiss immigration process, please write to us or call +44 (0)207 001 2121 to speak with one of our global immigration consultants.

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