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Swiss voters narrowly approve immigration limits

By Elwyn Lopez, CNN
February 10, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
A man walks past posters from the right-wing populist Swiss People's Party ahead of Sunday's referendum
A man walks past posters from the right-wing populist Swiss People's Party ahead of Sunday's referendum
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Vote reflects "unease with regard to population growth," Swiss government says
  • Swiss Federal Council warned limits would make it harder for businesses to find workers
  • Foreigners make up a fourth of Switzerland's workforce and 20% of its population
  • EU: It's against "free circulation of people between the European Union and Switzerland"

(CNN) -- Swiss voters narrowly approved a referendum to place new limits on foreigners living and working in Switzerland.

The country's Federal Council, which officially opposed the constitutional change, called the vote "a reflection of unease with regard to population growth in recent years."

The council had warned that passage would make it harder for Swiss businesses to find workers and would harm relations with the European Union.

Foreign workers from the EU have been allowed to freely commute from France and other countries into Switzerland to work, while there have been few restrictions on foreign nationals moving into the country to live.

Switzerland, which is not a part of the European Union, will not have to renegotiate agreements with the EU, the Federal Council said.

The European Commission issued a statement Sunday expressing "regrets" about the passage of the immigration quotas. "That goes against the principle of free circulation of people between the European Union and Switzerland," it said. "The European Union will examine the implications of this initiative with all relations between the European Union and Switzerland."

Foreigners make up about a fourth of Switzerland's workforce and 20% of its population. The immigrant community is dominated by Albanians, Bosnians and Turks, though most were denied a vote in Sunday's referendum because of the difficulty of gaining Swiss citizenship.

"The new constitutional provisions require that residence permits for foreign nationals be restricted using quantitative limits and quotas," the Swiss government statement said. "These limits and quotas will apply to all permits covered by legislation on foreign nationals, including cross-border commuters and asylum seekers, and must be geared towards Switzerland's overall economic interests. Businesses must give Swiss nationals priority when hiring staff."

Before the vote, the Federal Council issued a statement saying the foreign workers "make a significant contribution to Switzerland's prosperity. The Swiss economy has relied on foreign workers for decades. Manufacturing, construction, health care, academia and research, gastronomy and agriculture are dependent on workers from abroad."

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