Switzerland will curb the access of Bulgarian and Romanian citizens to its labor market for the next year as a response to increased migration from the two countries after limits were lifted last June. The Swiss government is struggling with immigration from the European Union especially following a 2014 referendum in which the public demanded that quotas be imposed. Bern will now cap the number of five-year residence permits for Romanians and Bulgarians at 996.
Free movement of workers between the EU and Switzerland is given by bilateral agreements but Bern has the right to use a so-called “safeguard clause” that enables it to impose unilateral limits if migrant numbers exceed certain threshold. Romanians and Bulgarians, however, exceeded the threshold last year, with their numbers in Switzerland going up by a net 3,300, about a double the increase from 2015. “Since introduction of full freedom of movement, Romanians and Bulgarian workers have been increasingly coming for seasonal jobs in sectors with higher-than-average unemployment rates,” Bern commented and added that “the government is employing one of the tools at its disposal to control migration.”
Switzerland had previously introduced limits, for example, after the 2004 grand enlargement when a number of Central and Eastern European countries joined, including Hungary, Poland and the Czech and Slovak Republics. Brussels has commented on the latest cap that it had regretted it because the number of all EU citizens seeking residency in Switzerland is actually going down. Net migration to Switzerland also fell, for a third consecutive year. Romanian foreign ministry commented that “this is taking place in the context of a relatively small number of Romanians who have applied for “B” permits in the last year and runs contrary to the contribution of the Romanian community in Switzerland”.