On February 9, 2014, the Swiss population voted to accept a popular initiative aimed at stopping mass immigration which was launched by the Swiss People's Party (SVP). The relevant article 121a in the Swiss Constitution aims at the introduction of an admission system based on quantitative limits and quotas, combined with a preference for local workers.
Third-country quotas have been a controversial political issue since the vote in 2014. To take account of this vote, the Federal Council initially reduced the quotas from 8500 to 6500 in the following year. Since then, however, various business associations and the economically strong cantons have been continuously lobbying for higher quotas. This is especially due to the lack of information technology experts in Switzerland and the EU/EFTA, leading to an increased need for third-country specialists. The Federal Council was forced to gradually increase them again - first to 7,500, then to 8,000 and now to 8,500.
The trend generally indicates an increase in quotas. As of 2019, for the first time, more quotas for third countries are available than before the vote on the mass immigration initiative. These quotas will be maintained for 2020.
Quota for third countries
Both short-term residence permits ("L permits") and residence permits ("B permits") for third-country nationals are generally subject to the availability of quotas, which are released annually by the Federal Council, taking into account economic and job market indicators. Generally, quotas are imposed for all permits for stays of over four months including cross-border commuter permits. Third-country nationals who work in Switzerland for a maximum of 120 days within a year are exempt from the quota requirement. The majority of the quotas for third-country nationals are allocated to the cantons according to a pre-defined key. The remaining quotas are kept in the federal reserve. If the allocated quotas are exhausted, the cantons can apply to the State Secretariat for Migration ("SEM") for additional quotas from the federal reserves.
Quota for EU/EFTA countries
The quota system also applies to service providers and assignees from the EU/EFTA countries who work in Switzerland for a foreign entity for more than 120 days within a year. The according quotas for EU/EFTA nationals are released by the Federal Council on a quarterly basis. Permits for EU/EFTA nationals working under a local Swiss employment contract are not subject to quotas.