According to SwissInfo.ch, the government of Switzerland is preparing to institute a de facto ban on the entry of missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from outside the European Union into Switzerland. Although Switzerland is not a formal member of the European Union, it has signed numerous bilateral treaties over the years with the EU, including the immigration agreement driving this prospective ban. Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID), who is LDS, is working with the Swiss government to attempt to mitigate the problem.
The ban is not driven by anti-Mormon bias, and Mormons aren't being singled out. Urs Ziswiler, the Swiss ambassador to the United States, said “We have several similar cases from other countries and to make an exception for the Mormons would create a precedent.” The new regulations stem from a bilateral accord on the free movement of people between Switzerland and the European Union that came into effect in 2002. In effect, this agreement allows European nationals to seek employment in Switzerland while significantly restricting work permits for people from all other countries. A subsequent decision by the Swiss courts established that missionary work is considered to be for gainful employment and therefore subject to quotas, even though LDS missionaries are in Switzerland as unpaid volunteers performing ecclesiastical duties only and as such do not compete with other workers. But Urs Ziswiler did offer some hope; “Laws can be amended and regulations can be changed but it will be up to the relevant communities involved to initiate those changes”.
Under an existing transition agreement, a maximum of 80 LDS missionaries from the US were allowed into Switzerland in 2010, and 50 will be permitted in 2011. As of 2012, there will be no future admissions of missionaries of any denomination from any third party states, according to the Swiss embassy.
The article states that Senator Mike Crapo and Senator Harry Reid are leading an effort by 13 of the 14 current LDS members of Congress to mitigate the problem (newly-elected Raul Labrador of Idaho has not yet been seated). “We expect an ongoing dialogue with the Swiss government representatives and US officials to ensure that responsible religious missionaries have the fullest possible opportunity to continue their work abroad with the minimum of bureaucratic hurdles,” Senator Crapo told swissinfo.ch. A copy of their letter to the Swiss ambassador is available HERE; only Tom Udall (D-NM) failed to sign it. The original letter by the Swiss ambassador is available HERE.
Since this post was published, the LDS Church has now issued this short statement:
The Church has a long history in Switzerland dating back to 1850. We hope a solution can be found that allows missionaries, regardless of their country of origin, to continue to serve the Swiss people.
In our experience, the Church's missionaries return home after service in Switzerland with great love and respect for the people, history, and culture of the country.
Switzerland has traditionally been friendly towards the LDS Church. The first Church temple built in Europe was completed in Zollikofen, near Bern, on September 11th, 1955. Initially, it served Church members throughout Western Europe and the Nordic countries. As of December 31st, 2009, there are officially 7,947 members of the LDS Church in Switzerland grouped into 36 different congregations.