Switzerland has been a country of immigration since the beginning of the 20th century. Already in the 1970s, people with other passports accounted for more than 20% of the population. At that time, immigration was governed by a system of quotas and special statuses which left migrants completely without rights: Seasonal workers were only entitled to fixed-term residence permits which in addition were valid only for a specific employer. Moreover, migrants’ families were not permitted to join them under any circumstances. In the late 1980s, however, the statute governing seasonal workers came under increased pressure from Swiss trade unions that succeeded in organising a very large number of migrant workers.
In 1992 Switzerland's accession to the European Economic Area (EEA) came up for discussion. The aim was to introduce free movement of people as defined by the European Community at that time, i.e. to abolish quotas and discriminating regulations. Swiss trade unions supported this. But in 1992 50.3% of Swiss voters voted against the EEA. One of the main reasons behind this was the desire of national conservative right-wing parties to keep their distance from the European Community. But another reason was the fact that blue- and white-collar workers feared that free movement of workers would undermine the Swiss wages and labour standards.