Switzerland plans to favour EU citizens in immigration law

ZURICH Fri Jun 20, 2014 10:21am EDT

Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga speaks during a news conference after the weekly meeting of the Federal Council in Bern June 20, 2014.  REUTERS/Thomas Hodel

Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga speaks during a news conference after the weekly meeting of the Federal Council in Bern June 20, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Thomas Hodel

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland plans to impose fewer limits on workers from the European Union than on those from other countries in a new immigration law, the government said on Friday, hoping to limit the diplomatic backlash over the new rules.

The law will set immigration quotas, as demanded by a referendum in February, but softer rules for EU citizens may reduce retaliatory measures from Brussels and big neighbours such as Germany and France.

Switzerland in the EU but, as a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), has signed agreements with the 28-nation bloc, including on free movement of labour, partly to ensure its access to European markets.

"In contrast to third-country nationals, EU and EFTA nationals may still be admitted even if they lack specialist qualifications. Switzerland will continue to have a dual-track admission system," the Swiss government said in a statement.

It did not specify exactly what restrictions the new law would impose on EU citizens.

The government said it had refrained from setting a fixed, inflexible target for reducing immigration in its proposal for the law, which will come into force in 2017.

Free movement of labour is one of the EU's fundamental principles and EU officials have told Switzerland it cannot cherry-pick the benefits of market access without accepting the obligations it entails.

The EU has postponed negotiations for Switzerland to participate in multibillion-dollar research and educational schemes as a result of the vote.

Last month, security systems maker Tyco International said it would move company headquarters out of Switzerland and to Ireland, in part because of the immigration rules but also due to caps on executive pay.

(Reporting by Alice Baghdjian and Katharina Bart; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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