Swiss firms fret over immigration vote backlash

Wed Feb 19, 2014 7:03am EST
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* Firms face uncertainty after Swiss immigration vote

* Big banking, pharma sectors rely heavily on foreign workers

* Some companies say vote will encourage them to invest abroad

By Alice Baghdjian and Caroline Copley

ZURICH, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Nestled between the peaks of the Swiss Alps, the Hotel Schweizerhof has provided rooms for weary skiers and hikers for more than a century, profiting like scores of other businesses from Switzerland's close ties to Europe.

But a shock vote last week to cap all immigration to the landlocked country and introduce quotas for those from the European Union, now threatens to cut the hotel off from the pool of workers on which it relies.

"Switzerland is too small, we don't have enough qualified people here - not in tourism, not in the health sector, not in other industries," said Andreas Zuellig, manager of the hotel, which stands in the Swiss ski resort of Lenzerheide and draws around 40 percent of its staff from the EU.

In a country that depends heavily on foreigners in all sectors of the economy, Zuellig is not alone in worrying about the consequences of the referendum, which the Swiss government opposed but must now write into law within three years.

In addition to the Swiss tourism industry, the financial services and scientific sectors, which together account for nearly a fifth of gross domestic product (GDP), have been spooked by the vote.   Continued...