CWS 3.0: February 19, 2014

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Swiss Immigration Quota to Affect EU Workers

A recent vote to cap the number of EU nationals immigrating to Switzerland is raising concerns on how it will affect temporary staffing and CW programs in the country. The referendum, which passed by 50.3 percent, follows an initiative put forward by the ultraconservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP).

Although not a member of the European Union (EU), Switzerland has adopted large sections of EU policy. As a result of the vote, the Swiss government now has three years to replace the current policy of free movement for EU nationals with a system of immigration quotas.

At present, net immigration averages 70,000 people per year, with foreigners accounting for 23 percent of the population, the second highest immigrant population in the EU after Luxembourg.

In a statement, the European Commission said it regrets that the passage of the immigration limits into Switzerland. “This goes against the principle of free movement of persons between the EU and Switzerland. The EU will examine the implications of this initiative on the EU-Swiss relations as a whole.”

Swiss Staffing, the Swiss Federation of Staffing Companies, has voiced its concern that recruiting skilled labor from abroad will become more difficult, making it a greater challenge for companies to fill jobs quickly.

“In the interests of temporary work, Swiss Staffing requires a system of non-bureaucratic quotas, adapted to the needs of the economy,” the organization said in a statement. “At the same time, the result of the vote shows the fears about the effects of immigration (real or imaginary) have not sufficiently been taken into account. The population deserves more realistic solutions.”

“We fear that uncertainty about the consequences of changing the system could hamper the economy. To this end, Swiss Staffing is hoping for a swift clarification on how the initiative will be applied. But we are also warning against making hasty decisions. The transition from a free labor market to a quota market must be approached thoughtfully and differentiated to keep as many of the benefits of the free market as possible. In particular, we mean the low unemployment rate and keeping Switzerland an attractive place to do business.”

In an interview with Belgian newspaper De Morgen, Patrick De Maeseneire, CEO of Switzerland-based staffing giant Adecco, expressed regret over the vote, “because economic migration is good for people and business. I attribute the result to a nationalist reflex in the wake of the economic crisis.”

In the short term, De Maeseneire fears that there may be some negative consequences for the business world, saying the legislation has damaged Switzerland’s reputation, which may make attracting new investors more difficult.

In the medium term, however, De Maeseneire is more confident: “I am hopeful of a compromise in the negotiations with the EU. The Swiss government will have to respect the referendum and apply quotas, but nothing stands in the way of the needs of the labor market. They know that workers are needed. The Swiss are, above all else, pragmatists.”

While the implementation of the quota system could take up to three years, the impact on staffing could be felt much more quickly. The staffing industry is inherently more sensitive to market changes and will, most likely, be among the first to experience declines in demand.

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