New travel restrictions are in effect from February 8th to slow down the spread of coronavirus mutations.
The new rules include filling out an electronic entry form, which should be shown at immigration and passport control if asked.
Some travellers are exempted from this requirement. They include people entering from France, Germany, Italy and Austria, as long as they are not travelling by air. This includes cross-border workers.
Also, anyone over the age of 12 arriving by air must present a negative PCR Covid test, taken not more than 72 hours before departure.
A negative PCR test result must also be presented by anyone who has been in a country with an increased risk of infection, even if arriving by bus, train or car.
Why are cross-border workers excused from the new rules?
Specifically, they are G permit holders, defined by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) as “foreign nationals who are resident in a border zone and are gainfully employed within the neighbouring border zone of Switzerland”.
Swiss authorities have repeatedly stressed that these employees are essential for the country’s economy.
In Geneva, for instance, one in four jobs is held by a cross-border worker, according to Michel Charrat, president of the European Cross-Border Grouping (GTE).
At Geneva’s university hospital (HUG) alone, 60 percent of nurses and 9 percent of doctors are cross-border workers.
“Out of around 5,200 caregivers, about 3,200 come from France,” said HUG’s spokesperson Nicolas de Saussure.
Bertrand Vuilleumier, head of the hospital association in canton Vaud, also noted that “without cross-border workers, our hospitals would not be functioning”.
Switzerland’s other border areas rely on frontier health workers as well. Cross-border medical workers are just as essential in Ticino — 120 doctors and 500 nurses employed in the canton’s health sector are daily commuters from the nearby Italian regions.
In Basel, which straddles a border with both France and Germany, over 2,000 daily commuters come to work in the canton’s hospitals from the two countries.
“It is clear that the loss of this foreign workforce would plunge Swiss hospitals into a crisis. We definitely have to prevent that,” said Thierry Fumeaux, head of the intensive care unit at Vaud's Nyon Hospital.
Cross-border workers are also essential in other branches of Switzerland’s economy, such as construction, and hotel and restaurant sectors.
That is the main reason why these workers have been exempted not only from the most recent set of restrictions, but also from the ones that were in place during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.
At that time, borders between Switzerland and its neighbours were closed, but frontier employees could still travel to their Swiss jobs.
Overall, more than 332,000 cross-border commuters are employed in Switzerland.
More than 125,000 work the area around Lake Geneva, which encompasses the cantons of Geneva and Vaud.
About 70,000 are employed in northwestern Switzerland, which shares a border with both France and Germany, and 68,000 workers from Italy work in Ticino.