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IMMIGRATION

How Switzerland’s strict immigration rules might have contributed to slow vaccination rollout

Since the start of the vaccination campaign in December 2020, cantons have experienced delays. One of reasons may be the shortage of qualified foreign workers in Switzerland.

How Switzerland’s strict immigration rules might have contributed to slow vaccination rollout
Shortage of workers has caused delays in producton. Photo by GUILLAUME SOUVANT / AFP

One of the active ingredients in the Moderna vaccine is manufactured by Swiss company, Lonza, in its factory in Visp, Valais.

A reason cited for the delay in Moderna’s delivery is that Lonza lacks about 100 biotechnology specialists for the production of the base material.

READ MORE: Switzerland cancels thousands of vaccination appointments after Moderna delivery delay

The problem lies in Swiss immigration rules, which limit the number of workers allowed to come to Switzerland from non-EU/EFTA states, the latter including Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.

“For us, it is important to employ people from Europe and all over the world,” Lonza’s Head of Global Operations Jörg Solèr said in an interview with Switzerland’s SonntagsZeitung newspaper.

However, the number of workers who are allowed to come to Switzerland from third countries — that is, from outside the EU/EFTA — is capped.

That’s because authorities want companies to privilege Switzerland-based employees over foreign ones. When a position can’t be filled by local workforce, employers can then hire people from the EU / EFTA, and only turn to third nations as a last resort.

Getting a work permit for them is not easy.

They can be employed in Switzerland according to a quota system. For 2021, the Federal Council set the number of these work permits at a maximum of 8,500. Only 4,500 of them are long-term B permits, and 4000 are short-term L permits, valid for up to a year.

This quota applies to all employees from third-nations, with the exception of the UK, who are allowed 3,500 work authorisations— 2,100 B permits and 1,400 L permits — of their own. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What are your chances of getting a job in Switzerland from abroad?

However, these numbers apply throughout Switzerland; the quota for individual cantons is much lower.

The Valais National Council is calling on the federal authorities to create exemptions from the current immigration rules for industries which depend on specialised employees but can’t recruit them in Switzerland or the EU.

“Many high-tech industries like Lonza can no longer find the workers they need in Switzerland or the EU. Quotas therefore do not protect Swiss jobs; on the contrary, they jeopardise the development and prosperity of Switzerland ”, said Valais MP Philippe Nantermod.

“The priority now is to produce the vaccine, not to limit immigration”, he added.

His motion will be discussed during the next parliamentary session in May.

In the meantime, given the urgency involved in getting the vaccine production back on track, the government is stepping in to find biotech experts for Lonza.

The Federal Department of Home Affairs (FDHA) is trying to locate specialised personnel among those employed by the federal administration and various universities.

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For members

IMMIGRATION

EXPLAINED: What are the main obstacles to finding a job when moving to an EU country?

Moving to another country is never easy, as it requires going through cultural changes and administrative formalities. It can be even more complicated when looking for a job.

EXPLAINED: What are the main obstacles to finding a job when moving to an EU country?

According to new data released by the EU statistical office, Eurostat, the knowledge of the national language and the recognition of professional qualifications are the two most common obstacles experienced by foreign-born people in finding a ‘suitable’ job in countries of the European Union.

Overall, about a quarter of people born outside the EU who had experience in working or looking for work in the bloc reported some difficulties getting a ‘suitable’ job for level of education (without considering the field of expertise or previous experience).

The Eurostat analysis shows that the situation is better for EU citizens moving within the bloc. But there are major differences depending on countries and gender.

Life can be more difficult for women

In 2021, 13.2 percent of men and 20.3 percent of women born in another European Union country reported obstacles in getting a suitable job in the EU place of residence.

These proportions however increase to 20.9 percent for men and 27.3 percent for women born in a non-EU country with a high level of development (based on the United Nations’ Human Development Index) and 31.1 percent for men and 35.7 percent for women from non-EU countries with a low or medium level of development.

Finland (42.9 percent), Sweden (41.7 percent), Luxembourg (34.6 percent) and France (32.1 percent) are the countries with the highest shares of people born outside the EU reporting problems. Norway, which is not part of the bloc, has an even higher percentage, 45.2, and Switzerland 34.3 percent.

In contrast, Cyprus (11.2 percent), Malta (10.9 percent), Slovenia (10.2 percent), Latvia (10 percent) and Lithuania (6.7 percent) have the lowest proportion of people born outside the EU reporting difficulties.

Lack of language skills

The lack of skills in the national language is most commonly cited as a hurdle, and it is even more problematic for women.

This issue was reported by 4.2 percent of men born in another EU country, 5.3 percent of those born in a developed country outside the EU and 9.7 percent of those from a non-EU country with a middle or low level of development. The corresponding shares for women, however, were 5.6, 6.7 and 10.5 percent respectively.

The countries where language skills were more likely to be reported by non-EU citizens as an obstacle in getting a relevant job were Finland (22.8 percent), Luxembourg (14.7 percent) and Sweden (13.1 percent).

As regards other countries covered by The Local, the percentage of non-EU citizens citing the language as a problem was 12.4 percent in Austria, 10.2 percent in Denmark, 7.8 percent in France, 5.1 percent in Italy, 2.7 percent in Spain, 11.1 percent on Norway and 10.1 percent in Switzerland. Data is not available for Germany.

Portugal (77.4 percent), Croatia (68.8 percent), Hungary (58.8 percent) and Spain (58.4 percent) have the highest share of people from outside the EU already speaking the language as a mother tongue before arriving, while more than 70 percent of non-EU citizens residing in Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and Norway said they had participated in language courses after arrival.

Lisbon Portugal

Portugal has the highest share of people from outside the EU already speaking the language as a mother tongue before arriving. (Photo by Aayush Gupta on Unsplash)

Recognition of qualifications

Another hurdle on the way to a relevant job in EU countries is the lack of recognition of a formal qualification obtained abroad. This issue was reported by 2 percent of men and 3.8 percent of women born in another EU country. It was also mentioned by 3.3 percent of men and 5.9 percent of women born in a developed country outside the EU, and 4.8 percent of men and 4.6 percent of women born in a less developed non-EU country.

Eurostat says this reflects an “unofficial distrust” among employers of qualification obtained abroad and the “low official validation of foreign education”.

The lack of availability of a suitable job was another factor mentioned in the survey. In Croatia, Portugal and Hungary, this was the main obstacle to getting an adequate position.

This issue concerned 3.3 percent of men and 4.5 percent of women born in another EU country, 4.2 percent of men and 5 percent of women born in a developed non-EU country It also worried 3.9 percent of men and 5.1 percent of women born in a less developed non-EU country.

Restricted right to work due to citizenship or residence permits, as well as plain discrimination on the grounds of origin were also cited as problems.

Discrimination was mostly reported by people born in a less developed non-EU country (3.1 percent for men and 3.3 percent for women) compared to people born in highly developed non-EU countries (1.9 percent for men and 2.2 percent for women).

Citizenship and residence permits issues are unusual for people from within the EU. For people from outside the EU, this is the only area where women seem to have fewer problems than men: 1.6 percent of women from developed non-EU countries reported this issue, against 2.1 percent of men, with the share increasing to 2.8 and 3.3 percent respectively for women and men from less developed non-EU states.

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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