Free movement of persons – functioning and current state of play

A yellow protection helmet hanging from scaffolding on a building site © DEA/EDA

The bilateral Agreement on the free movement of persons (AFMP) confers upon the citizens of Switzerland and of the member states of the European Union (EU) the right to freely choose their place of employment and residence within the national territories of the contracting parties. 

The AFMP establishes basic rules for the free movement of persons between Switzerland and the EU. This is conditional, however, on possession by the individuals concerned of a valid employment contract, being self-employed, or in the case of their not being in gainful employment, proof of financial independence and full health insurance coverage. The AFMP provides for a phased introduction of the ground rules for the free movement of persons between Switzerland and the EU. It lays down transitional periods during which immigration can be restricted. The agreement is further extended through the coordination of social security systems and the EU’s system of diploma recognition.

Flanking measures

As a supplement to the FMP, job market measures came into force on 1 June 2004 that protect both the Swiss working population and foreign employees sent to Switzerland from efforts to undercut salaries and the working conditions that apply in Switzerland. The measures are intended, among other things, to help counter the influx of foreign service providers that are only independent in name, or through sanctions to ensure compliance with compulsory minimum wages for all persons employed in Switzerland. The efficiency of the flanking measures is being monitored over the last few years, for example in regards to the extension of the AFMP to new member states. New measures are being discussed on a regular basis and are being voted by Swiss authorities in order to ensure appropriate legal instruments.

Recent developments

On 9 February 2014 the Swiss people voted in favor of the popular initiative “Against mass immigration”. The new constitutional text required the Federal Council and Parliament to introduce within three years a new system for an autonomous management in regards to immigration and to safeguard the economy’s interests..  On 11 February 2015 the Federal Council adopted a negotiating mandate in order to adapt the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons with the EU. On 4 march 2016 the Federal Council submitted draft legislation to the Parliament to manage immigration. Simultaneously intense consultations were led with the European Commission in order to find common ground, but without success. The National Council took charge of the issue and on 21 September 2016, the project “Priority to Swiss Nationals light” was adopted. The Council of States dealt during the winter session 2016 with the proposal. Both chambers agreed eventually on legislation compatible with the AFMP and that would as a consequence also preserve all the other bilateral agreements. On 16 December 2016, the Federal Assembly adopted the legislation related to article 121A and the Federal Council authorised the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), in cooperation with the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP), to confirm the ratification of Protocol III (extending the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons to Croatia) to the EU.

Additional information

Press

Special federal vote on 9.2.2014

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