Thursday, December 16, 2010

Switzerland Using The Foreign Nationals Act Of 2008 And Two Other Laws To Restrict Entry Of Foreign LDS Missionaries From Outside The European Union

The revelation that Switzerland is preparing to restrict the entry of non-European missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is generating increased media coverage, as the Utah media in particular is leading the charge. Stories have been published by KSL Channel 5, the Deseret News, and the Salt Lake Tribune. However, there is more a sense of disappointment rather than outrage; since there's no legacy of organized hostility towards the LDS Church by Switzerland, many people are simply baffled by the Swiss government's action.

A December 16th, 2010 story in provides more definition. The restrictions revolve around the combined effect of three pieces of legislation:

-- A 1986 law defining "gainful employment", deliberately worded so as to prevent employers taking on foreign nationals as “trainees” and paying them lower wages.

-- A 2002 agreement allowing the free movement of people between Switzerland and the European Union (EU).

-- The Foreign Nationals Act of 2008, which imposed severe restrictions on the numbers of third country nationals allowed to take up residence in Switzerland.

Thus while LDS missionaries from another EU country will still be allowed to enter Switzerland, missionaries from outside the EU will have restrictions imposed upon them, with none allowed effective in 2012.

One of the purposes of the Foreign Nationals Act of 2008 is to preserve as many jobs for Swiss nationals as possible by limiting residence permits only to third country nationals who are skilled and qualified. In the religion category, only professional vocations (such as priest, vicar, imam, etc.) are acceptable. The LDS Church has countered by saying that since LDS missionaries are not paid, they are not taking jobs from the Swiss people. While this is not disputed by the Federal Migration Office, which is responsible for allocating permits, it is not the point, according to Adrian Wymann, head of the Labour Market Section for German-speaking Switzerland. Wymann explained that “If you are doing something which by regular Swiss standards you can expect to be paid, then that is gainful employment”. This interpretation is driven by yet a third law passed 1986, which gave a very broad definition of gainful employment, in order to prevent employers taking on foreign nationals as “trainees” and paying them lower wages. Apparently the Swiss government noted how employers and immigrants in the United States collaborate to misuse H-1B and H-2B quotas to steal jobs from Americans, and wanted to prevent the same problem in Switzerland.

So why doesn't the Swiss government simply make an exception for LDS missionaries? This is where the Swiss allow "equality" to trump sovereignty. Swiss legislation mandates the principle of equal treatment of immigrants. As Adrian Wymann explains, "If we say we’ll continue to accept around 200 Mormon missionaries every year, and accept that they have a four month training before coming to Switzerland, there’s no way we can not accept missionaries from Brazil, from Africa, from religious communities which may not be as well known as the Mormons, which may be dubious or not – we don’t know. From a legal point of view, we would have no way of saying ’no’ to those communities".

But this is a weak excuse. Since Switzerland is a sovereign nation, it has the right to restrict immigration for whatever reason it chooses. If it wants to allow LDS missionaries but prevent the entry of Santeria missionaries from Third World countries, it can do that. Just as I have the right to restrict who enters my home, so the Swiss have the right to restrict whoever enters their national home. Equality should never be allowed to trump sovereignty.

Alternatives: There are currently two ways around the problem. LDS missionaries could continue to be admitted if they qualified as professional "religious caretakers". They would have to be trained for two or three years and have additional professional experience. Another possibility could be for them to come as students, but in this case they would have to matriculate at a Swiss university and would not be allowed to work for six months, and then only for 15 hours a week. Neither alternative is likely to appeal to the LDS Church.

In the final analysis, Adrian Wymann wants to assure people that neither he nor his government is specifically targeting Mormons. "It’s not directed against the Mormons...It’s simply bringing things back into line in order for us to be able to say we don’t have a practice here that is unconstitutional". And the effect upon the LDS Church will be anecdotal; European Saints will simply have to take more of the outreach burden upon their shoulders.

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