Monday 10 February 2014

Swiss Immigration Referendum

A recent referendum that included a vote on an immigration initiative in Switzerland coincides nicely with my last post (here) on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in Canada and the sentiments that surround these types of issues.

First the results:
In a nail-biting vote, 50.3 percent backed the "Stop mass immigration" initiative, which also won the required majority approval in more than half of Swiss cantons or regions, Swiss television said. 
"This is an enormously important decision because the direction must now be shifted," SVP politician Luzi Stamm told Swiss television. "The Swiss population have said that, instead of free movement of people, quotas have to be introduced."
While the quota level does not appear to be known, I believe that a three year period is given to determine levels. The difference between populist ideas and policy implementation will be pushed to the fore through this process. Does each country get it's own quota? Should they be divided by industry? What portion will be allotted for asylum seekers and political refugees?

Tyler Cowen, at Marginal Revolution shares some thoughts:
In my view immigration has gone well for Switzerland, both economically and culturally, and I am sorry to see this happen, even apart from the fact that it may cause a crisis in their relations with the European Union.  That said, you can take 27% as a kind of benchmark for the limits of immigration in most or all of today’s wealthy countries.  I believe that as you approach a number in that range, you get a backlash.
Cowen links to this article by Adam Ozimek which takes a look at  immigration data, both stock and flow from around the world which shows Canada ranking 6th by immigrant % of population (18.3%) and 12th by inflows as a % of population (.8%).

Switzerland at 3rd (26.5%) and 2nd (1.5%) respectively are a long way ahead of us. But it is still informative.

Cowan also links to this piece by Dennis MacShane that explores the political and social dynamics that led to this outcome. Interesting throughout, particularly bits of interest include the industry vs. populism nature of the debate (think oil sands or pipelines) and how this might alter the discussion in other European countries.

MacShane again touches on my point from the previous article:
The referendum vote has been depicted as just an anti-EU measure. In fact, it applies to all immigrants. Switzerland took in so many asylum seekers from Kosovo during the decade of Serb genocidal atrocities in the 1990s that Albanian is the country’s fourth language. The low pay work – cleaning, hotels, caf├ęs, domestic servants, all-night service stations, sandwich making, construction – once done by southern Europeans is now undertaken by workers from strife torn Muslim nations, Africa, and ex-Soviet republics. They are more visible, notably in Geneva which is Europe’s most multicultural, multi-hued city.
How urgent is our need to get these folks back to where they came from? Do these considerations warrant any part in shaping our policy choices?

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