Opinion: Immigration

POSTED: 02/11/14 9:59 AM

Foreigners have always been an easy target for locals who feel that things are not going their way. Immigration is a hot issue in many countries, including the United States and Europe, but also small island countries like St. Maarten.

In Switzerland the population has spoken about immigration and not everybody is happy with the result. In a referendum, initiated by the conservative Swiss People’s Party, a small majority of the Swiss voted in favor of quota for immigrants. The measure will enable the Swiss government to limit the number of European immigrants that enters the country every year.

Swiss companies protested the idea from before the referendum took place and yesterday they expressed grave concern about the consequences for the country’s economy. Switzerland strongly depends on export and it relies for a large part on foreign workers.

The companies fear that they will be frozen out of the European market if the government follows up on the referendum and sets limits to immigration from European countries. Approximately 25 percent of all banking personnel come from other European countries, according to the Swiss bankers association. The bankers fear that it will become more difficult, if not impossible, to find qualified staff because highly educated immigrants will stay away because of the strict regulations.

The companies fear that the measure will trigger an influx of immigrants with lower education because they are supposedly more inclined to accept the conditions for immigration. The quota would limit amongst others the immigration of family members.

The Swiss government has three years to write the initiative into law. The exact immigration limits still have to be established. Companies hope that the international contracts with the European Union will not be canceled.

What do we learn from this Swiss experience? First of all that the country is strongly divided on the immigration issue. The referendum outcome was decided by a flimsy margin.

The second observation seems contradictory. The referendum was an initiative from a conservative political party. One would think that such a party is closely allied with Swiss business interests. Based on results however, this is not the case. The party went for the popular sentiment and ignored possible economic consequences.

St. Maarten has its own issues with immigration. On the one hand there seems to be a near unstoppable influx of immigrants that find their way into low paying jobs. On the other hand a complex set of rules and regulations frustrates companies in their quest for finding qualified staff. Especially this last point is hurting the economy.

If companies do not find qualified staff they will not reach their full potential. That leads to dampened profits and lower or no investments. It is clear that such a downward spiral will also affect job opportunities for locals in a negative way.

What we therefore need is not a radical Swiss solution because this seems to be the road to economic disaster. What we need is a balanced approach that will make it easy for companies to hire whomever they need. At the same time locals are entitled to fair job opportunities. Everybody understands that and nobody will deny them that right. Therefore, if two candidates with equal qualifications apply for a job – a local and a foreigner – then the local must get the position. It is as simple as that and this way there is no reason to fear the immigration of qualified workers our companies need to flourish.

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