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In an interview with 'NZZ am Sonnatg' the Minister for the Economy Doris Leuthard said that the decision by the Swiss Parliament (Bundersrat) not to invoke restrictions on immigration for work purposes was with hindsight a mistake.
Switzerland, which is not a member of the European Union (EU) has agreements with the EU to allow workers from EU member states to work in Switzerland without any restrictions and work permits. However, Parliament can invoke the so-called 'Valve Clause' for a temporary period when immigration rises by 10% compared to the average over the previous three years.
Leuthard said "immigration in October 2009 might be down by 20% when compared to October 2008 but we had expected that immigrant workers from the EU would return to their countries when they lose their jobs in Switzerland. That was an error probably because unemployment in EU countries is higher than in Switzerland."
"Immigrants do not come to Switzerland because they want to live off unemployment benefit. Only 1% did that in 2008. They come because we still have a shortage in areas such as the health service and computing. Where we do have increased unemployment is in the unqualified labourers market, which concerns mainly immigrants from the Balkans but the agreement we have with the EU does not apply to these countries."
"Switzerland has for demographic reasons a need for qualified personnel from the EU but we should have invoked the 'Valve Clause' because that could have prevented several thousand people from the EU from coming here."
On the question whether the fact that Swiss employers even in times of economic crisis still employ 4,000 new immigrant workers means that the Swiss education system is failing, Leuthard said "good question but we have the free choice of profession and education in this country. It is therefore important that we interest our young in areas such as mathematics, computing, natural sciences, engineering and the health service."
"In health service care and care for the elderly we need 6,000 new workers every year but only 2,000 of these can be found in Switzerland. In hotel and catering services we have both high unemployment and many foreign workers but Swiss people don't like working in those sectors. We can't just whinge about the foreigners. Sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves. I myself have worked at an assembly line when I was younger."