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An example from Switzerland

Through this article, Prof. Christa Tobler explains how the Swiss popular vote on ‘mass immigration’ includes different categories of migrants.
© University of Basel

As we heard earlier, in Switzerland citizens entitled to vote may collect signatures in favour of a vote on a change of the Federal Constitution. On 9 February 2014, the Swiss voting population was asked to vote on a popular initiative aiming to curb immigration.

The initiative (often referred to as the ‘Mass Immigration Initiative’) proposed a number of changes in the Swiss Federal Constitution. This was accepted through the vote of 9 February 2014 with a very narrow majority of the people but a clear majority of the Cantons. The vote meant that the following new provisions were included in the Swiss Federal Constitution:

Art. 121a Control of immigration

1 Switzerland shall control the immigration of foreign nationals autonomously.
2 The number of residence permits for foreign nationals in Switzerland shall be restricted by annual quantitative limits and quotas. The quantitative limits apply to all permits issued under legislation on foreign nationals, including those related to asylum matters. The right to permanent residence, family reunification and social benefits may be restricted.
3 The annual quantitative limits and quotas for foreign nationals in gainful employment must be determined according to Switzerland’s general economic interests, while giving priority to Swiss citizens; the limits and quotas must include cross-border commuters. The decisive criteria for granting residence permits are primarily an application from an employer, ability to integrate, and adequate, independent means of subsistence.
4 No international agreements may be concluded that breach this Article.
5 The law shall regulate the details.

Art. 197(11) Transitional provision to Art. 121a (Control of immigration)

1 International agreements that contradict Art. 121a must be renegotiated and amended within three years of its adoption by the People and the Cantons.
2 If the implementing legislation for Art. 121a has not come into force within three years of its adoption by the People and the Cantons, the Federal Council shall issue temporary implementing provisions in the form of an ordinance.

Having read these provisions, please note the sentence in Art. 121a(2) according to which the quantitative limits apply to all permits issued under legislation on foreign nationals, including those related to asylum matters. In effect this means that all legal categories of migrants should be covered by the new migration regime. For all of them, Switzerland should decide on its own whether or not they are allowed to enter the country and to stay there.

However, putting this into practice is less easy than it might seem at first sight. As we will see in the following steps, there are international and European regional rules that set a binding framework for migration, also for Switzerland. We will discuss this, first, with respect to persons seeking international protection and, subsequently, with respect to the free movement of persons in the European Union’s internal market, as extended, to a certain extent, to Switzerland through bilateral agreements.

A final note for the sake of completeness: a few months after the vote on the ‘Mass Immigration Initiative’, there was another vote on another initiative aiming to limit immigration, namely the so-called ‘Ecopop Initiative’. Based on ecological considerations, this initiative was considerably more radical: it wanted to write into the Federal Constitution a limitation of the growth of the resident population to 0,2 % per year. However, the initiative was rejected.

© University of Basel
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Switzerland in Europe: Money, Migration and Other Difficult Matters

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