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'No to 10 million': What Switzerland's new vote to limit immigration could mean

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
'No to 10 million': What Switzerland's new vote to limit immigration could mean
What will Switzerland with 10 million people look like? Photo by Rob Curran on Unsplash

Switzerland will face a popular vote that calls to limit the country's population to 10million after enough signatures were gathered. But could it pass and what would it mean if it did?

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The populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) has gathered 114,600 signatures (more than the 100,000 required) to the Federal Chancellery, demanding a national vote on curbing immigration.

The ‘No to Switzerland of 10 million people’ push calls for the Federal Council and parliament to stop the influx of foreigners when the permanent resident population exceeds 9.5 million (it currently exceeds 9 million).

It could have major repercussions if it passes for example, Bern would have to terminate the agreement on the free movement of people with the EU.

“Over the past two years, more than 180,000 additional people have immigrated to Switzerland, with devastating consequences for our small country,” SVP head Marcel Dettling said after the submission of signatures.

The date for the vote has not been set yet.

What does the party want?

The SVP wants to stem the continuing influx of foreigners into Switzerland because, according to the party, they have caused Switzerland's population to exceed 9 million people in 2023. 

The proposal calls for the constitution to include a new amendment guaranteeing “sustainable demographic development” — that is, stipulating that Switzerland’s population must not exceed 10 million people before 2050.

While admitting on its website that "the Swiss economy has always been dependent on foreign labour,” the SVP says nevertheless that "Switzerland has experienced a real demographic explosion due to uncontrolled immigration: at the current rate, the bar of 10 million inhabitants will be crossed in a few years already." 

Let’s break down SVP’s arguments and see how true (or not) they are.

What would happen if this initiative is accepted?

If the population reaches 9.5 million people before 2050, the Federal Council and parliament would have to take restrictive measures.

For instance, those who have been temporarily admitted would no longer be able to receive a B permit. Stricter criteria would also be set for family reunification.

Additionally, Switzerland would have to renegotiate international treaties that caused the population growth in the first place —  specifically, the government would have to terminate the agreement on the free movement of people with the EU. 

Could this proposal pass in a national referendum?

It depends on many factors.

In SVP’s most recent initiative, on September 27th, 2020, 61.7 percent of voters rejected its proposal to curb immigration from the EU. 

That was, however, four years ago, before the population surged to 9 million and the prospect of further growth was on the radar.

Whether or not the majority will turn down the new proposal as well, depends on whether the voters will listen to the arguments put forth by the SVP, or those of the government and economists, both of which say that curbing immigration “would likely result in an unprecedented economic vulnerability."

According to Philippe Wanner, professor at the Institute of Demography and Social Economics at the University of Geneva, “such a scenario would undeniably come at a high cost, as it would involve restrictive policies, tighter border controls, the likelihood of illegal immigration, and shortages in sectors heavily reliant on a foreign workforce, including healthcare, construction and information technology." 

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Is Switzerland’s population set to increase to 10 million people?

Given that the country now has just over 9 million inhabitants, the next milestone, according to demographers, is reaching the 10-million mark a few years from now — assuming the current influx of people from abroad continues at the same pace.

As an indication, official data shows that net immigration – that is, gross immigration minus gross emigration – amounted to almost 92,000 people between July 2022 and July 2023.  

That number doesn’t include people who arrived from abroad between July and December 2023.

If the same trend continues, then Switzerland’s population could well reach the 10-million mark within a decade.

“Switzerland has been in a situation of uninterrupted demographic growth for several decades, and this is explained in particular by the arrival of young migrants, who also contribute to the Swiss birth rate," according to Wanner. 

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How would such a surge in population impact Switzerland’s infrastructure?

The SVP argues that such an increase will “weigh on quality of life, prosperity, nature, as well as our infrastructure such as schools and hospitals, and energy.”

Some of these claims appear to be legitimate.

This prospect has prompted Swiss MPs to ask the Federal Council to develop scenarios on how the small country can make room for that many residents.

Specifically, Green Liberal Party MP Judith Bellaiche has called on federal authorities to devise a plan on how to prepare the country’s infrastructure for the growing number of residents.

The reason is that so many additional people — no matter whether they are foreigners or Swiss — will strain the existing infrastructure, including housing, healthcare system, and public housing.

The Federal Council said it would respond to MPs concerns "in the context of legislative planning" over the coming years.

READ ALSO: What Switzerland needs to do to accommodate 10 million residents

 

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