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Will Switzerland cut number of work permits for third country nationals?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Will Switzerland cut number of work permits for third country nationals?
There could be fewer non-EU workers in Switzerland in the future. Photo: Pixabay

Switzerland's justice minister has said she wants fewer permits to be issued to workers from outside the European Union.

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The minister, Elisabeth Baume-Schneider, is asking the Federal Council to reduce the permit quotas the government makes available for people from outside the EU / EFTA each year, SRF public broadcaster reported on Tuesday. 

In 2022 and 2023, the government issued 12,000 permits for people from outside the EU / EFTA.

Specifically, 8,500 permits were issued to skilled workers from third countries: 4,500 B and 4,000 L permits.

In addition, 3,500 permits were set aside for workers from the UK: 2,100 under a B permit and 1,400 under an L permit.

The quotas are distributed among cantons based on their need for qualified non-EU / EFTA workforce. 
However, according to SRF, Baume-Schneider wants the quota lowered from the current 12,000 to 9,600 permits in 2024.

'Disappointing'

The cantons, which rely on skilled workforce from outside Europe to fill vacant positions for which no Swiss or EU / EFTA employees are found (both groups having priority over third country nationals),  are not happy about Baume-Schneider’s move to reduce the quotas.

"This a surprising and sad news,” said Urban Camenzind, president of cantonal economy association.

For the employers association, the move to reduce third-country quotas "is disappointing, because this is a small group of specialised workers who are not found in Switzerland and the EU, and are therefore important" for the economy, spokesperson Daniella Lützelschwab told the SRF.

She added that one of the consequences of fewer third-country nationals allowed to work in Switzerland is that "if companies can’t hire the employees they need, they might leave the country."

This news comes amid political efforts 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.

That project was stalled in September, when MPs realised the measure would be difficult to implement from a constitutional point of view because the current law 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 — a move that legislators were about push forward.

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

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Why is Baume-Schneider pushing for the reduction of quotas?

While no official explanation has been given, one reason for the move that is being cited is the will to integrate refugees already in Switzerland into the country’s labour market, according to SRF.

In other words, if companies can recruit fewer employees from third countries, the pressure to better integrate well-qualified refugees will increase.

Daniel Lampart from the trade union federation said that many highly-qualified refugees currently in Switzerland  would be able to replace at least some third-country nationals.

What happens next?

The Federal Council will decide in the next few weeks whether it wants to follow  Baume-Schneider’s proposal to tighten the screws on the third-country immigration and, if so, when.

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Jonathan Sanz 2023/11/22 22:49
So how does this potential new policy affect those third country nationals who already have B permit that are renewed annually? Does this mean there is a possibility that these permits cannot be renewed for the following year?
  • helena.bachmann 2023/11/23 08:53
    At this point, we still don't know.
Jonathan Sanz 2023/11/22 22:49
So how does this potential new policy affect those third country nationals who already have B permit that are renewed annually? Does this mean there is a possibility that these permits cannot be renewed for the following year?

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