Controlling immigration: Federal Council decides on safeguard clause

Press Release, The Federal Council, 04.12.2015

Bern. The Federal Council today discussed how immigration can be managed so as to comply with constitutional requirements. It made a number of preliminary decisions, taking account of the results of consultations on the draft of new legislation on foreign nationals: the Federal Council is looking to apply a safeguard clause in order to control the immigration of persons covered by the Agreement on the free movement of persons with the European Union (EU). To do so, it will seek a mutually acceptable solution with the EU. In the event that it is unable to reach agreement with the EU in time, the Federal Council has, in a parallel move, instructed the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP) to draft a dispatch on a unilateral safeguard clause. This dispatch should be ready by the beginning of March 2016. The Federal Council will consider measures to enhance the potential of the domestic workforce and tackle labour market abuses at its meeting on 18 December.

The Federal Council decided to continue the ongoing consultations with the EU, with the aim, if at all possible, of achieving a mutually acceptable solution which respects the constitutional provisions while complying with the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP). This would safeguard the bilateral path and re-establish the legal certainty that is so important to Switzerland’s economy. Two academic studies commissioned by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO indicate that termination of the first series of bilateral agreements would have serious consequences for the Swiss economy.

As the Federal Council is bound by the deadlines set out in the new Article 121a of the Federal Constitution, it has today instructed the FDJP, in parallel with the ongoing talks with the EU, to draft a unilateral safeguard clause: the aim of the clause would be to allow the independent control of immigration by imposing temporary and targeted restrictions on permits for persons from EU/EFTA states . The parameters of this safeguard clause will be set out in the Foreign Nationals Act. In this way, a specific threshold will be set for the immigration of citizens of EU and EFTA states, which, if exceeded, would lead to quantitative limits and quotas being introduced the following year. The Federal Council will specify the types of permit and purposes of residence to which the limits and quotas will apply. When making these decisions, it will give special consideration to Switzerland’s general economic interests and the recommendations of a new immigration commission, as proposed in the consultation draft.

The Federal Council has instructed the FDJP, working with the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER), to prepare a dispatch to that effect by the beginning of March 2016. The Federal Council intends to regulate immigration from third countries in accordance with the draft legislation submitted for consultation, which means that quantitative limits will also apply to family reunification, persons not in gainful employment and asylum seekers.

Further amendments to the Foreign Nationals Act

The dispatch will also cover measures to improve the implementation of the AFMP. More specifically, foreign jobseekers will not be permitted to claim social assistance benefits in Switzerland. The legislative bill also sets out the criteria for determining when a person who has lost their job also loses their residence rights, and provides for an exchange of information between authorities if a person claims supplementary benefits.

Furthermore, by the beginning of March 2016, the FDJP will also prepare an additional dispatch on the integration provisions in the Foreign Nationals Act. Provisions relating to refugees and temporarily admitted persons will be relaxed to allow them more opportunities in the jobs market (enhancing the potential of the domestic workforce).

Efforts to ratify the Croatian Protocol

A mutually acceptable solution with the EU on a safeguard clause would allow Protocol III of the AFMP, which extends the Agreement to include Croatia, to be signed and ratified. This is a requirement that Switzerland must meet in order to remain part of Horizon 2020, the EU framework programme for research and innovation, beyond 2016. While Switzerland is on the way to secure a mutually acceptable solution, Protocol III can already be signed provided a unilateral declaration is given at the same time. In this declaration, Switzerland would state that it is making every effort to ensure compatibility between the AFMP and the Federal Constitution until ratification. 

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