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25 Apr, 2013 09:54

Switzerland to restrict immigration despite EU anger

Switzerland to restrict immigration despite EU anger

Switzerland will restrict immigration from European countries in an effort to limit the flow of migrants to the wealthy country, which is not a European Union member. The decision has prompted harsh criticism from the EU's foreign policy chief.

The placing of restrictions on immigration permits is aimed at making immigration “more acceptable to society,” Geneva said. Under a ‘safeguard clause’ in Switzerland's treaties with the EU, it already imposes quotas on long-term residence permits for foreigners from eight eastern European countries that joined the bloc in 2004.

Starting next month, the Swiss government plans to apply quotas for a year for the other 17 western and southern EU countries. The Alpine nation plans to issue a maximum of 2,180 long-term permits for migrants from eastern EU member-states and 53,700 for migrants from western EU member-states.

According to the Swiss government, in recent years the number of immigrants coming to the country for work was as large as 80,000 yearly – higher than the number emigrating. Switzerland is currently experiencing its “biggest property boom in two decades,” Bloomberg reported, with immigration contributing to a house price bubble.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton slammed Geneva’s new immigration regulations in a statement: “I regret the decision of the Swiss Government to continue the quantitative limitations adopted last year to the free movement of EU citizens who are nationals of eight Member States and to extend such restrictions to the nationals of the other Member States.”

Ashton said that the measures adopted by Geneva are “contrary to the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons” over how they differentiate between groups of EU member-states. She also charged that the new regulations “disregard the great benefits that the free movement of persons brings to the citizens of both Switzerland and the EU.”

Swiss Minister of Justice Simonetta Sommaruga said the government does not view the introduction of the safeguard clause as an “unfriendly act towards the EU… It's a fact that there is unease among the population, and it's necessary to take this unease seriously.”