The new article 121a of the Federal Constitution contains two assignments: introducing a new immigration system, and negotiating with the EU on an amendment to the Agreement on Free Movement of Persons (AFMP). These two assignments must be completed by February 2017.
Consultation on amendments to the law
The immigration system that the Federal Council has devised contains annual quantitative limits and quotas for all foreign nationals and provides that Swiss residents should be given priority when recruiting new staff. The admission of EU citizens will be regulated by the AFMP as before, but the Agreement will have to be amended in line with the constitutional requirements. The results of the negotiations being sought with the EU are therefore key to the draft legislation. For citizens of third countries, the draft legislation being submitted for consultation provides for quotas and the prioritisation of existing Swiss residents, as was previously the case.
Under the Federal Council proposals, the quantitative limits will apply to any persons staying in Switzerland for a period of four months or more in order to work, i.e. to both standard residence permits and to short-term residence permits. Cross-border commuters, family members, persons who are not working, refugees and temporarily admitted persons are also subject to the quantitative limits. The draft legislation requires the Federal Council to stipulate the quantitative limits and quotas. In the general economic interest, no rigid advance target for reducing immigration will be set. The Federal Council has based its decision on a survey of cantonal needs and on the recommendations of an immigration commission.
The draft further provides that the decision to prioritise existing residents must be assessed in each individual case. However, exceptions will be made in professions where there is a proven shortage of qualified workers: in such cases, a detailed assessment is not required. This solution takes account of differences in the jobs markets in the various sectors.
Mandate approved for negotiations on free movement of persons
The Federal Council also approved the mandate to negotiate with the EU on amendments to the AFMP. The mandate assigns the task of adapting the Agreement so that Switzerland will be able to control immigration levels autonomously, and limit immigration while safeguarding general economic interests. At the same time, Switzerland will maintain the bilateral path as the basis for its relations with the EU. Under the mandate, both objectives must be pursued equally.
The mandate was welcomed in the consultations by the foreign affairs and political institutions committees of the Federal Assembly and by the Conference of the Cantonal Governments, employers' associations and trade unions. The FDJP and FDFA will conduct detailed consultations with the EU over the coming weeks and months. The agreement of the EU and its member states is required before negotiations can begin.
Additional accompanying measures
In order to guarantee that Swiss businesses will still be able to recruit the qualified workers needed under a future system of restricted immigration, better use must be made of the potential workforce within Switzerland. The Federal Council today discussed how best to exploit this potential in the context of the EAER qualified workers initiative (QWI). The EAER will step up its work on this project in cooperation with the departments, the cantons and employment organisations and report back by the end of June. In this connection, the Federal Council discussed around twenty measures that the departments have introduced on social insurance, taxation, health and safety, and infrastructure. These measures aim to mobilise the potential workforce in Switzerland, and in particular women and older jobseekers.
In addition, the Federal Council decided on four measures supplementary to the QWI aimed at finding jobs for more workers within Switzerland and thus to improve the employment prospects of all Swiss residents, especially among the most vulnerable groups in the jobs market. These measures aim to give jobseekers a head start by providing regional job centres with advance notice of vacancies in the Federal Administration before they are officially advertised, to look into a possible increase in the budget for integrating migrants, to expand the range of training options in the medical sector, and to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The Federal Council has requested the relevant departments to ensure that regional job centres are given advance notice of vacancies and to begin the exploratory work, and to provide it with a proposal for implementing the remaining three measures by the end of 2015 or start of 2016.
Easier access to the jobs market for people in the asylum sector
People in the asylum sector are another group of potential workers who could be offered more opportunities. The Federal Council therefore wants to reduce the administrative hurdles for recognised refugees and temporarily admitted persons so that they can find work more easily. One possible solution would be to abolish the requirement of obtaining authorisation to work and to replace it with a simple reporting procedure.
Consultation on the draft legislation will be carried out from 11 February to 28 May. An overall assessment of the implementation of the new constitutional provision will only be possible once the results of the negotiations on the amendment of the AFMP are available and the accompanying measures have been taken into consideration.
Address for enquiries:
Agnès Schenker, Information Service FDJP, tel. +41 58 462 40 05
Information FDFA, tel. +41 58 462 31 53
Noé Blancpain, Head of Information EAER, tel. +41 58 462 39 60