Immigration to Switzerland rises ahead of May referendum

Net immigration to Switzerland rose again last year, according to the official data published last Thursday, ahead of a May referendum pushed by the right-wing Swiss People's Party on ending the free movement deal with the EU.

Immigration contributed a net 55,000 people to Switzerland's population last year, the State Secretariat for Migration said, cited by Reuters. The foreign population stood at 2.1 million at year's end, or around a quarter of the overall 8.5 million.

Net immigration from the European Union and EFTA countries Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein increased by nearly 32,000, mostly as Romanians and Bulgarians took advantage of the full opening of the Swiss labor market for them as of June 2019. The biggest groups of EU citizens living in Switzerland are from Italy, Germany, France, Portugal and Kosovo.

In a binding referendum on 17 May, voters will decide whether Switzerland should take back unilateral control of immigration, if necessary at the cost of abrogating the free-movement pact with the EU that took full effect in 2007. The referendum under the Swiss system of direct democracy is being billed as Switzerland's “Brexit moment”. Imposing limits on EU citizens would violate bilateral accords that enhance Swiss access to the EU single market, the lifeblood of the export-led Swiss economy.

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