People in Switzerland have rejected a plan to implement widespread immigration cuts and the ending of tax breaks for rich expats.

A vote did not back the so-called Ecopop initiative, which proposed that the number of immigrants must be severely reduced to save the country’s environment, with around 73% voting No.


According to initial results, some 61.6% also rejected the plan to get rid of tax breaks for wealthy foreign residents.

The vote comes less than a year after another poll saw the country voting to impose quotas for immigration from European Union member states. The government is still trying to implement the proposals while avoiding sanctions from Brussels, which regards the free movement of people as a fundamental right and core part of trade treaties with non-EU member Switzerland.

Foreign nationals already make up nearly a quarter of Switzerland's eight million inhabitants, official statistics show, and according to Ecopop, the eco group that put forward the plan, immigration is adding up to 1.4% annually to the Swiss population.

The campaign wanted to cap immigration's contribution to population growth at 0.2%, which would mean an addition of 16,000 people each year and a population of 8.5 million by the middle of the century.

The vote also showed that the people are happy to welcome the rich. Switzerland has 5,729 millionaires and billionaires with foreign passports, who together pay around one billion Swiss francs in taxes annually.

The rich are regarded as an asset as they contribute substantially to Swiss tax coffers and inject huge sums directly into the local economy. It was feared many would leave the country if they faced higher taxes.

Figures show that in 2012, Switzerland received the highest migration flow relative to its total population in the OECD, which is made up of 34 Western countries. More than 90% of foreign workers admitted that year were from the EU or associated countries in the European Economic Area.

‘There might be a little bit more room for manoeuvre, but it's still quite a big issue.  Switzerland is still far from having found a solution,’ said Georg Lutz, a professor of political science at the University of Lausanne.

While the Swiss enjoy one of the highest living standards in the world and among the highest wages, there have been increasing complaints that the country is showing signs of strain, overcrowding, and excessive development of urban and rural areas.