ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland should let in at least 50,000 immigrants a year even if unemployment rises, the head of the Swiss employers association said, appealing to the right-wing People's Party (SVP) to be flexible in stemming the influx of foreigners.
Switzerland threatened this month to impose unilateral curbs on immigration from the European Union should it fail to agree on limiting the flow of labour into a country where nearly a quarter of the population is foreign.
After months of tough negotiations, Berne and Brussels are still at loggerheads over how to implement an SVP-led 2014 Swiss referendum for immigration quotas that would violate a bilateral pact guaranteeing freedom of movement for EU workers. The SVP is the biggest party in the Swiss parliament.
In an interview with the SonntagsZeitung paper, Valentin Vogt said business was ready to accept 10 to 15 per cent fewer foreign workers but that the number had to hinge on economic conditions.
"So far we have around 80,000 per year and economic growth is around 1 percent. I would say around 65,000 (would be appropriate in 2016) and if unemployment would rise I suspect it should be around 50,000," he said, citing net figures.
He called SVP suggestions of limiting the annual influx to around 21,000 "unrealistic."
Around 1.3 million EU citizens already live in Switzerland and 300,000 cross the border daily to work. In 2014, nearly 111,000 nationals from the EU plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein immigrated to Switzerland, according to government figures.