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Sunday, 24 September, 2000, 13:10 GMT 14:10 UK
Swiss throw out immigrant limit
voting
Right-wing politicians forced the referendum

By Claire Doole in Geneva

The Swiss have rejected a referendum proposal aimed at limiting the number of foreigners in the country, according to Swiss radio.

The move to limit immigrants to 18% of the population was backed by a loose coalition of right-wing parties but strongly opposed by the government, banks and industry.

Referendum
Sixth time immigration limit rejected
Proposal backed by 100,000 signatures
1.3 million foreigners in Switzerland
If the exit polls are correct the Swiss Government will be highly relieved that the referendum has failed, after having campaigned hard for a no vote.

Immigrants currently account for just over 19%. The government was concerned that an immigration cap would be bad for an economy which is booming.

There are staff shortages in many sectors such as health care and tourism and the fear was they would be blighted by a quota system. But supporters of the referendum argued the Swiss economy was suffering from a flood of cheap labour.

Its 18% cap was aimed at keeping out the unskilled foreigners, allowing exemptions for executives, scientists and students.

Fears for the country's image

But the government's concerns went beyond the economic. It was worried the quotas would violate international agreements, particularly a recent deal with the European Union to let in more workers.

But there was also Switzerland's image abroad at stake. That had taken a battering following the treatment by its banks of Holocaust victims and their families.

The government could not afford another public relations disaster.

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