That is the conclusion of the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) in its new Immigration Statistics 2018 report, which was published on Friday.
The report (here in French) shows that net immigration (that is, the number of people entering minus the number of people leaving) in Switzerland for EU and EFTA nationals was 33,088 last year.
That is just 90 people more (or 0.3 percent higher) than in 2017 when net immigration was 30,799.
Crucially, the 2018 figure is also only half the record number of 60,957 – the highest since the Swiss–EU bilateral agreement on the free movement of persons (AFMP) came into force.
A politically significant figure
The relatively low net immigration figure for 2018 comes in the midst of a long-running debate over immigration in Switzerland.
The conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP) has been trying for years to push through initiatives to counteract the impact of the AFMP and ensure Switzerland has the final say on the number of immigrants entering the country.
In 2014, the party’s “against mass immigration” initiative, which called for quotas on EU nationals entering Switzerland, was backed by voters in a referendum.
But the Swiss government went into crisis mode and quickly worked to limit the impact of the referendum which seriously threatened already fraught Swiss–EU relations.
The Swiss parliament finally passing a much watered-down version of the immigration initiative in 2016.
An end to the free movement of persons treaty?
In response to this setback, the SVP, along with the group Campaign for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland (AUNS), last year launched a new anti-immigration initiative designed to kill off the Swiss–EU treaty on the free movement of persons.
In their introduction to the initiative – which has been dismissed out of hand by the Swiss government – the SVP and AUNS argue there are too many foreigners in Switzerland and this has led to everything from rising house prices to increasingly dangerous streets.
But as Swiss broadsheet NZZ points out, the net migration figures of 60–80,000 people a year from the EU cited by the campaign’s backers are no longer current, which could take some of the wind of the campaign’s sails.
However, the Zurich daily also pointed noted the SVP could also put to the fact that when the AFMP was rolled out, the Swiss government said net immigration of just 10,000 people a year could be expected.