Politics For Members

What does Swiss People's Party election win mean for foreigners in Switzerland?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
What does Swiss People's Party election win mean for foreigners in Switzerland?
What is at stake for EU workers after the SVP's win? Photo: Pixabay

In the parliamentary election on Sunday, the populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) strengthened its position as the largest faction in the Federal Assembly. Could this affect foreign residents currently living in the country, or those planning to come here?


The SVP collected 29 percent of the vote — an increase of nearly 3.5 percent compared to the last parliamentary election in 2019. This means the party now has 62 seats in the National Council, that is, nine more than four years ago.

Given the SVP’s long-standing efforts to restrict the number of foreign workers entering Switzerland, analysts say this victory is sending a clear message that immigration will remain an ongoing and controversial issue.

What exactly does the SVP want?

The party has long argued that immigration should be massively curbed because foreigners take jobs away from the Swiss, commit crimes, and abuse the country’s social welfare system.

All of the anti-immigrant referendums of the past years had been launched by the SVP.

Currently, the party is collecting signatures to launch yet national vote to force the Federal Council to nullify the Free Movement of Persons Agreement with the European Union that allows EU residents an almost unlimited access to Switzerland’s labour market.

With their ‘No to 10-million Switzerland’ campaign — a reference to the forecasts predicting the country’s population will soon reach the 10-million mark due to immigration — the SVP is trying to convince voters that foreign residents  “are harmful for our country,” according to its website

Immigrants, the party says, "cause housing shortage, increase in rents, traffic jams, drop in educational levels, and explosion of health costs.”

READ ALSO: What's at stake for foreign citizens in Switzerland's parliamentary elections?


Will the rightwing majority in parliament have a negative impact on the country’s foreign population?

The ‘mood’ in the parliament, as well as specific actions, are largely determined by which political party has the majority of seats. As experience has shown, when rightwing groups are in control, many "pro-immigrant" motions and proposals are vetoed.

However, while the debates among the MPs on the subject of immigration could become more heated, in practice not much will change for foreign nationals — either immediately or drastically.

There are several reasons for that.

Firstly, while the populist faction in the parliament got a boost on Sunday in terms of more seats, the SVP has been the dominant party for years, so its goal in this latest election was to maintain its position and not lose any seats to left or centre-left parties.

This means the SVP’s victory at the polls is not the paradigm shift it would have been if the SVP suddenly climbed from an underdog party to a dominant position.

Basically, when the next parliamentary session resumes on December 4th, it will be (almost) business as usual.

Secondly, due to the unique structure of Switzerland's political system, MPs have— regardless of which party is dominant —  only a limited power to enact legislation and make it stick.

They can (and do) pass laws, but if a group of citizens objects to it and collects enough signatures to challenge the legislation, the law will be submitted to a referendum.

So if the SVP drafts an anti-immigration proposal and it is accepted by the majority of MPs (which is not at all easy, since left and centre-left parties must also approve it), it can still be overturned at the ballot box.


Federal policy

Even though the rightwing politicians are calling for the end of the Free Movement of Persons Agreement, the Swiss government has no plans to act on it in the foreseeable future.

In fact, the Federal Council has steadfastly maintained that foreign workforce is essential for the country’s economy, especially as there is a worsening shortage of skilled professionals.

So as things stand now, no major changes are on the horizon for the workers from the EU / EFTA nations.

On the other hand, the situation could be less positive for people from third countries.

Earlier, the Federal Council proposed easier access to the labour market for 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 approved this proposal, but backtracked in September, finding the measure would be difficult to implement from a constitutional point of view, because the current legislation 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.

The SVP, however, already vowed to fight against this, and any other attempts, to open Switzerland and its labour market to more foreigners.

But here too, even if this law were to pass, the voters, and not the SVP, could ultimately have the final say in this matter.


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Frances Coya 2023/10/24 11:29
There are many countries in the world that immigrants can go to. The Swiss can not carry a large share of immigrants just because they are prosperous. Other countries need to learn from Switzerland not move to Switzerland.

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