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How will the Swiss immigration referendum impact the local legal market?

Posted by: Angela Floydd 15/02/17

Angela Floydd, based in our Geneva office, gives further insight into the local Swiss market in her recent blog:

The 2016 UK referendum result has dominated global headlines in relation to the implications for the UK employment market and in turn the legal market. However the UK isn’t the only European country in which the outcome of a referendum stands to have a significant impact on the employment landscape and subsequently its legal arena.

In 2014 Switzerland voted to cap EU immigration. However, in a standoff with parallels similar to those anticipated when the UK negotiates its exit deal from the EU, Brussels refused to digress from its stance that any attempt to restrict free movement by enforcing caps or quotas would automatically exclude Switzerland, or indeed any EU member or associate, from the single market.

A quarter of Switzerland’s population are foreign nationals, including 1.4 million EU citizens, with 365,000 more commuting daily from neighbouring EU countries including France, Germany and Italy, so the implications for the country’s employment market could have been particularly negative. However, the Swiss government sought to introduce measures which make no mention of quotas but instead set out guidelines for employers, a compromise which sought to placate the EU.

The new bill opts instead to try to curb immigration by giving residents priority in new job vacancies, meaning that the implications for the Swiss employment market will no doubt be less severe than those proposed in the initial referendum bill. Employers, however, are likely to seek advice on any new changes to employment law in order to mitigate any potential risks.

Switzerland’s complex economic and trading relations with the EU are governed by a lattice of more than 120 bilateral treaties which are all linked by a “guillotine clause”, meaning that if one is violated, they all collapse. So it’s somewhat unsurprising that the Swiss government decided to ‘water down’ the initial bill.

In reality, over the last 5 years, there has been an increasing trend towards prioritising applicants already resident in Switzerland, particularly in the legal market as employers have had a greater choice of local applicants as a result of the growth within the legal sector in the preceding years. Swiss net immigration has slowed over the last 3 years. In 2015, there was a net immigration decline of 15%. This natural ongoing trend and priority for unemployed locals should serve to allay the concerns which have caused a strain on Swiss and EU relations, potentially paving a way forward for the UK as it enters into divorce negotiations with the EU.

Rather than restricted immigration, potentially the greater threat to the legal market in Switzerland and choice of roles for applicants is the continuing strength of the Swiss Franc. Salaries in Switzerland are some of the highest in Europe. As a result, some roles originally intended to be Swiss based are being repositioned in less expensive locations. This trend looks set to continue regardless of the local employment regulations.

For further information regarding Swiss legal and compliance salaries or to receive a copy of our latest salary survey please do contact me by email

Tagged In: Economy, Europe, Government
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