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EU migration to affordable housing: All you need to know about Switzerland’s crucial spring referendums

From limiting migration to changes in childcare tax allowances, the newly-announced referendums contain several important proposals. Here’s what you need to know.

EU migration to affordable housing: All you need to know about Switzerland's crucial spring referendums
Photo by Martin Krchnacek on Unsplash

As reported by The Local, Switzerland has just decided to hold a referendum on May 17th in addition to the already planned vote for February 9th. 

Several important questions will be asked, some of which have the potential to shape the country for a generation. 

The February referendum will consider putting in place a ban on homophobia as well as expanding affordable housing options across the country. 

In May, Switzerland will vote on limiting EU migration by closing the freedom of movement provision, while questions on childcare tax deductions and animal welfare will also be put to the public. 

READ MORE: Swiss set to vote again on limiting EU migration

Here’s what you need to know about the two referendums – and the questions that are being asked. 

The criminalisation of homophobia (Vote: February 9th)

Unlike other forms of discrimination related to race and gender, homophobic discrimination is not criminalised at a federal level in Switzerland.

The Swiss Government updated the law in December of 2019 to include homophobia under current anti-discrimination statutes, thereby allowing for it to be criminally prosecuted.

EXPLAINED: The Swiss referendum that could criminalise homophobia 

Far-right groups however have opposed the move, saying it would serve as a barrier on free speech – gathering the 50,000 signatures necessary to launch a referendum.

Pursuant to Swiss law, the question will be whether or not to overturn the government's criminalisation of homophobia. Early polling suggests that the referendum will fail, thereby seeing the new law stand. 

Protesters in Zurich. Image: Fabrice Coffrini

Affordable housing (Vote: February 9th)

Access to affordable housing has become a major issue across Switzerland, whether in the country's urban areas or in regional centres. 

The affordable housing initiative calls for a greater involvement for housing cooperatives in the market.

The referendum will require 10 percent of new housing stock to be owned by housing cooperatives and to abolish government subsidies for luxury apartments. 

Housing cooperatives, which operate on a not-for-profit basis, have sprung up as an alternative to traditional profit-focused rentals across Switzerland.

The initiative calls upon cantons and councils to make land available for these cooperatives, calling it a profitable investment in Swiss society.

Doing so would reduce housing costs by up to 20 percent, says Green politician Louis Schelbert.

READ MORE: Affordable housing: Swiss coalition calls for investment and law reform 

Currently, support for the initiative is at around 66 percent. 

A limitation on EU migration (Vote: May 17th)

The centrepiece of the May referendum is the right-wing Swiss People’s Party initiative (SVP) on implementing a cap on EU migration. 

The ‘moderate immigration limitation initiative’ will restrict EU freedom of movement in Switzerland. 

EXPLAINED: What is Switzerland's referendum on affordable housing all about?

If the vote is successful, Switzerland and the EU will have one year in which to renegotiate freedom of movement provisions. 

This has long been one of the SVP’s core issues – particularly since a similar proposal was defeated at a referendum in 2014 – with supporters believing too many foreigners are taking advantage of the current system. 

An estimated one quarter of Swiss residents are foreigners, many of whom do not have citizenship and therefore the right to vote. 

READ MORE: ‘I pay taxes but have no say in Swiss life': Your views on whether Switzerland should allow all foreigners to vote 

The Swiss government and all major parties besides the SVP reject the initiative. 

The government is concerned it will make it harder to find workers and damage the economy, while there are also concerns that it will mean reciprocal rights for Swiss citizens in the EU will be restricted. 

Regardless of the outcome, experts have also predicted that Swiss-EU relations could be significantly impacted. 

EXPLAINED: The February Swiss referendum that could criminalise homophobia

Child tax deduction (Vote: May 17th)

An initiative of the Social Democrats (SP), this vote is a move to counter the child tax deductions which have been recently introduced by the Swiss Government. 

READ MORE: The real cost of parenting in Switzerland and how to save money

The deductions were introduced late in 2019, increasing the maximum tax deduction for childcare from CHF10,000 to CHF25,000 along with raising the general tax deduction for childcare from CHF6,500 to CHF10,000. 


The SP argues that these deductions only benefit the very wealthy and should therefore be scrapped. The Government has countered, arguing that the deductions remove the barriers for women with children – especially those who are highly qualified – to pursue employment. 

The general tax deduction plan is estimated to cost the government CHF350 million per year, while the maximum tax deduction plan is set to cost CHF10 million. 

Animal protection (Vote: May 17th)

The final question to be voted on in the referendum relates to hunting rights. In 2019, the Swiss Parliament removed some restrictions on hunting wolves and other species. 

Where these animal species can be shown to be a danger to habitats or biodiversity, authorities will be allowed a greater scope to control their populations. 

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The initiative has been launched by animal protection organisations who argue that the recent law changes place endangered species at a greater risk and should therefore be repealed. 

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Why are more foreigners coming to Switzerland than previously?

In 2022, around 81,000 more foreigners immigrated to Switzerland than left the country which meant almost 20,000 more international residents arrived than the previous year. Why are the numbers going up?

Why are more foreigners coming to Switzerland than previously?

According to the federal government, the reason is for the increase is simple: the growing demand in the labour market.

The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) presented its statistics for the past 12 months, which includes data on its permanent foreign resident population.

According to the stats, a total of 114,393 people arrived in Switzerland from EU and EFTA countries in 2022 – nearly 20,000 more than in 2021. Of those, around 48,042 were third-country nationals. At the same time, 73,736 people left Switzerland.

In all, at the end of December 2022, 2,241,854 foreign nationals resided in Switzerland on a permanent basis.

Increasing demand for workers fuels immigration

The reason for the disparity is that workers from the EU / EFTA have an almost limitless access to the Swiss employment market, whereas permits for people from outside Europe are subject to strict quotas.

According to the SEM, the main reason for the increase in immigration is that more people have been employed in the service sector, in industry and in construction. The increase, it stated, reflects the dynamic development of the Swiss economy and is also the result of catchup effects after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Thus, the number of newly hired foreign workers increased by 26 percent with a total of 90,633 foreigners taking up long-term positions in Switzerland during 2022.

Zurich sees most new immigrants

As in the previous year, the canton of Zurich topped the list with 28,994 people moving to the canton from other countries, followed by Vaud which welcomed 20,025 foreigners. In contrast, 14,179 Zurich and 11,620 Vaud residents chose to leave Switzerland in 2022.

Meanwhile, 11,799 foreigners moved to the canton of Geneva between January 1st and December 31st 2022 from abroad, with 6,745 Geneva residents leaving Switzerland. The canton of Basel-City counted 4,687 new arrivals while 2,542 left the canton for foreign shores.

The statistics did not include foreigners with short-term residence permits as those were counted as renewed immigration and therefore not listed in the immigration statistics for the non-permanent foreign resident population, effectively leading to slightly lower immigration numbers compared to the previous year.

2.24 million foreigners in Switzerland permanently

According to the data, 2.24 million foreigners lived permanently in Switzerland at the end of December 2022. This included 335,755 Italians which still account for the largest foreign population group in the country, closely followed by German nationals at 317,544. The former are followed by 157,769 French and 257,829 nationals.