Why has the move to let non-EU graduates stay in Switzerland stalled?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Why has the move to let non-EU graduates stay in Switzerland stalled?
Austria is a popular destination for students due to low costs, high quality, and job prospects afterward. Photo: Pixabay

In March MPs decided to allow non-EU / EFTA students who graduate from Swiss universities with a degree in a field suffering from a shortage of qualified professionals to remain in the country, but the project has hit a setback.


Under the current rules, students from the European Union or Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein (EU / EFTA) can look for a job in Switzerland after graduating.

Those from non-EU / EFTA states (also known as 'third countries'), however, must leave the country.

The distinction is made because while EU / EFTA citizens have an almost unrestricted access to Switzerland’s labour market, other nationalities are subject to quotas, which limit their employment opportunities.

However, given a shortage of qualified workers in some sectors — including healthcare, engineering, and IT — the Federal Council proposed not subjecting quotas to non-EU / EFTA holders of a bachelor's, master's or doctorate obtained in Switzerland in a field suffering from a shortage.

In March, MPs in both chambers of the parliament — the Council of States and the National Council — approved this proposal, thus allowing students from third countries to remain in Switzerland and work after they graduate.

“Currently, the employment of third-country nationals is subject to the strict quotas, even if they studied in Switzerland. But this regulation no longer makes sense,”  MP Andri Silberschmidt said at the time.

The reason, he said, is because Switzerland “pays to train these foreigners and there is no return on investment if they have to leave the country".

READ ALSO: Switzerland allows non-EU university graduates to stay and work 


No legal basis

However, during the current parliamentary session that began on Monday, MPs found that the measure would be difficult to implement from a constitutional point of view.

That’s because the current legislation that states all those from outside the EU / EFTA must be subjected to quotas, doesn’t have any exemption clauses for third country nationals who graduate from Swiss universities with in-demand skills.

So in order for this measure to be green-lighted, legal basis must be created first.


What will happen next?

Right now, the issue is in the National Council, where ways to enact this measure are being discussed.

The parliament is in session until September 29th. If no resolution is found by then, the issue will be put on the back burner until the winter session, scheduled for December 4th – 22nd, when it could be discussed again. 

Since allowing non-EU / EFTA graduates to work in the country is in Switzerland’s economic interest, chances are high that MPs will create a legal ordinance to implement this move.

That, however, could be just half the battle.

While the majority in the parliament — and the Federal Council as well — are in favour of this change, right-wing deputies from the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) will oppose it.

The SVP has long been an outspoken critic of “demographic explosion due to uncontrolled immigration,” and is more than likely to block the move.

It could, for instance, launch a referendum against this measure.

In the end, Swiss voters might have to decide whether these foreign students should be allowed to stay and work in Switzerland.


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