As nations across Europe, including the UK, clampdown on the number of non-EU workers entering their countries and Donald Trump in the US promises even tougher immigration controls, Switzerland has announced that it will issue an extra 1,000 work permits to immigrants from outside of the European Union. From 2017, the Swiss government will make 7,500 B and L permits available to non-EU workers.
The announcement comes as a welcome relief for businesses that rely on specialist foreign staff following concerns of a growing work permit shortage. In August 2016, cantonal authorities in Geneva issued a letter to Simonetta Sommaruga, Switzerland’s Justice Minister, to say that they were ‘extremely worried’ about being unable to offer work permits to “highly qualified non-European specialists.”
As recently as 2014, the Swiss government granted a total of 8,500 (B and L) permits to non-EU workers. However, 12 months later, the number dropped to 6,500 after new anti-immigration rules were agreed in February 2014.
Unused work permits made available to Geneva
In 2015, Geneva managed to top up the work permit quota for its territory with unused permits from 2014, which they held in a federal reserve. However, by August 2016, the territory’s own quota and that of the federal reserve had been exhausted.
As a result, Geneva and a number of other cities in Switzerland home to a number of international companies feared that the work permit shortage might mean that some overseas companies might move out of Switzerland.
Johann Schneider-Ammann, the Economics Minister and Swiss president, rallied behind Geneva and other territories to lobby for a return to the work permit numbers seen in 2014, which would benefit the economy by generating more jobs.
According to sources, there is huge demand for specialized workers in the fields of pharmaceutical research and IT. In response, the Federal Council agreed to issue a further 1,000 work permits, though some say that the increase is not enough to meet demand.
Work Visa Quota system
Critics say that the increase is a measure introduced to ‘soften the blow’ of a quota like system that’s set to be introduced in February 2017, in accordance with the anti-immigration scheme that was agreed back in February 2014.
‘Beneath all the nice gestures, the Swiss parliament is currently favouring a ‘light’ solution, which would see the country favour native workers over EU immigrants in certain sectors or regions only if immigration becomes a particular problem,’ .
Meanwhile, a leaked document sent to Swiss broadcaster, SRF reveals that the European Union has questioned the legality of the Swiss parliament’s ‘light’ solution giving preference to Swiss workers ahead of EU workers. In the meantime, it is hoped that the government’s decision to grant an extra 1,000 work permits will help to ease some of the skills shortages that currently exist in Switzerland.
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