What is the change? Following a constitutional amendment narrowly passed by Swiss voters to cap the number of foreign workers in Switzerland, the Federal Council has announced it will draft an immigration reform law this year.

What does the change mean? Workers from the European Union and European Free Trade Association, who previously enjoyed free movement, will now be restricted and subject to a quota system.

  • Implementation timeframe: The Federal Council plans to introduce an implementation plan by June and a draft law by the end of the year. To implement the constitutional amendment, new legislation must be written and passed by the Swiss Parliament, which could take some time.
  • Visas/permits affected: Work permits.
  • Who is affected: Nationals of European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) member states.
  • Impact on processing times: None at this time.
  • Business impact: The exact business impact will be clearer as legislation progresses, but the measure will force businesses to limit the number of non-Swiss employees.

Background: On Feb. 9, Swiss voters passed an initiative aimed at restricting foreign workers from Europe. The measure, introduced by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party as an anti-mass immigration policy to maintain Swiss identity, passed by a slim margin of 50.3 percent. Three days later, the Federal Council announced steps to move forward on implementing the new measure. The constitutional amendment will impose a quota system on the number of foreign workers from EU and EFTA countries that companies can employ, but the details may take months to sort out.

“At this stage, it is not defined how big the quotas will be and what conditions need to be fulfilled to obtain a work permit for Switzerland,” said Nina Perch, an immigration attorney at Sgier und Partner GmbH in Zurich. Perch added that there are no immediate changes to the processing of work permits. The government will now move to write legislation implementing the measure, but experts predict it could take up to three years before changes are final.

“The Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP) will work with the Departments of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) to draw up an implementation plan by the end of June. A draft law will be presented by the end of the year,” the Federal Council said in a statement. The Federal Council said it will also hold talks with the EU to discuss implications of the new Swiss law on the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) and other bilateral negotiations. Switzerland is not a member of the EU, and foreigners make up about a quarter of its population. EFTA member states are Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

BAL Analysis: While the details are not yet clear, businesses should plan for new restrictions on hiring of EU/EFTA nationals in Switzerland and coming changes to procedures for work permits.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group and our network provider located in Switzerland. For additional information, please contact your BAL attorney.

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