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Switzerland is an attractive destination for migrants, and over recent years the number of people coming to live and work in the country rose annually by around sixty to eighty thousand compared with the number of persons leaving the country. This constant growth has both positive and negative effects, for example on the economy and the labour market, on the social insurance system, spatial planning, the housing market and infrastructure.
Today the Federal Council addressed the question of how to deal with the negative consequences of immigration. It came to the conclusion that the safeguard clause is one of several measures which can help to make immigration more acceptable to society and compatible with its needs.
Immigration and society
After 1 May, the quota for B-permits (5-year residence permits) will be kept in place for nationals of the EU-8 states  and as of 1 of June 2013, quotas will be applied to B-permits for workers from EU-17  states as well , provided that the requirements will be met. Quotas of around 2,180 B-permits for EU-8 states and around 53'700 B-permits for EU-17 states will apply for one year.
However, the Federal Council will refrain from restricting category L residence permits (short-term residence permits of up to a year) for workers from EU-8 and EU-17 states. The necessary threshold for invoking quotas for L-permits has been reached for EU-8 states, but is unlikely to have been reached for EU-17 states by the end of May.
The safeguard clause in the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons permits Switzerland to unilaterally impose quotas up to 31 May 2014 provided the number of residence permits issued to employed and self-employed persons from EU states exceeds the average for the three preceding years by at least 10 per cent. Each category is calculated individually.
Need for long-term supporting measures
The Federal Council is aware that the safeguard clause is only an effective instrument in the short-term, and that further measures are required that have a long-term impact. For this reason, accompanying measures against wage dumping were intensified over the past year (for example in the field of ostensible self-employment or the introduction of joint liability for contractors in the sub-contractor chain).
It is also important to consistently combat abuses in the area of immigration law and social security. The Confederation, cantons and communes must work together on projects to ensure that immigration, though beneficial for the economy, does not have negative consequences for spatial planning, affordable housing and infrastructure.
In today's discussion the Federal Council made it clear on several occasions that the free movement of persons brings many advantages to Switzerland's as a location for business. Immigration from EU countries has had a positive impact even during the recession, in particular in terms of consumer spending and on the construction industry, thus helping to boost the Swiss economy. More than 1.2 million people from EU states live in Switzerland. Along with cross-border commuters, they make an important contribution to Switzerland's prosperity and help to create jobs. The EU is also Switzerland's most important trading partner, with 56 per cent of Swiss products being exported to the EU.
 The EU-8 comprises Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
 The EU-17 comprises the western and southern European countries Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Sweden, Spain and the United Kingdom.