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Swiss pull back from restricting European immigration

Published on 22/05/2009

Zurich — Switzerland will not after all impose temporary immigration limits on European job seekers, which had been considered as a way of fighting unemployment, a government statement said Wednesday.

The government would not invoke a special clause built into the agreement it has with the European Union, but it would continue to follow the employment and immigration situation closely, said the statement.

"The activation of the safeguard clause would send a negative signal to our European partners, which is hardly desirable in the current political context," said the statement.

Under an accord between Switzerland and the EU, EU workers can take up jobs in Switzerland without being subject to a work permit quota system.

To protect the Swiss job market from over-saturation, the deal also includes a clause allowing Bern to impose temporary restrictions in specific circumstances.

It can be activated if immigration grows by more than 10 percent in a year compared to the average rate in the previous three years.

If the clause was activated, immigration from the 15 older EU states would be limited to the average migration rate of the previous year plus five percent for a maximum of two years (the clause does not apply to newer EU states).

Workers from Germany and Portugal make up the two biggest groups of EU migrants in Switzerland.

Switzerland’s export-dependent economy has been hit by the global slowdown.

Unemployment rose to 3.5 percent in April from 3.4 percent in March, according to official figures reported Friday.

April’s jobless total jumped 35.5 percent from the figure a year earlier, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) said.