GENEVA (AP) -- The Swiss government said Wednesday it plans to restrict immigration from Western European countries starting next month, citing constant growth in the number of people coming to work in the prosperous non-European Union country.
Under a "safeguard clause" in Switzerland's agreements with the EU, the Alpine nation already imposes quotas on long-term residence permits for people from eight eastern European countries. The government said it expects to apply it starting for a one-year period starting in May to the other western and southern EU countries.
During this period, the country will issue a maximum of 2,180 long-term permits for migrants from the new EU member states and 53,700 for migrants from the 'old' EU member states.
A government statement said in recent years the number of foreigners arriving in Switzerland to work has been up to 80,000 higher each year than the number leaving. Restricting permits "can help to make immigration more acceptable to society," the statement said.
Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, criticized Switzerland's new immigration regulations. "The measures disregard the great benefits that the free movement of persons brings to the citizens of both Switzerland and the EU," Ashton said in a statement.