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Bern moved on Wednesday to scrap aid for European job hunters, as rapidly rising immigration to the country fueled fears of “benefits tourism”.
EU citizens as well as those from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway “who come to Switzerland to look for work will have no right to social assistance,” the Federal Office for Migration said in a statement.
Those who hold a Swiss residency permit but who have been unemployed for 12 months or more, would also lose the permit after five years in the country, it added.
Foreigners made up almost a quarter of Switzerland’s eight million residents last year — 3.3 percent more than in 2012, according to official data.
The highest numbers of recent immigrants come from EU nations Portugal, Germany, Italy and France.
Swiss authorities said Wednesday’s changes were necessary amid “a lack of clarity . . . surrounding the right to social assistance and to residency”.
They also come just ahead of a referendum on a controversial plan by right-wing populists to reimpose immigration quotas for EU citizens which were dropped in 2007.
The Swiss People’s Party, the country’s biggest political party, is behind the proposal to be put to the vote on February 9th.
It claims that mass immigration is driving down wages for local workers, driving up rents and land prices, and overburdening the health, education and transport systems.
It is also charging that some are in the wealthy nation just to draw social benefits.
In 2012, more than 250,000 people received social assistance including housing aid in Switzerland, up six percent from the previous year, according to official statistics published in mid-December.
While 2.2 percent of Swiss citizens were drawing social aid in 2013, 3.1 percent of EU citizens living in Switzerland were doing so, the figures show.
Switzerland is not a member of the 28-nation EU but has close economic ties with the bloc.