Mormon missionaries from U.S. might be affected by Switzerland immigration policy

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 14 2010 9:00 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — The makeup of LDS Church missionaries serving in Switzerland may drastically change by 2012, with immigration policy there prohibiting most foreign missionaries beginning that year.

As currently constituted and interpreted, the policy will ban all missionaries coming from the United States, with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints having sent its representatives from the U.S. to the central European nation for a century and a half.

The immigration policy would allow missionaries from European Union nations. Switzerland is not a EU member, although it has signed numerous bilateral treaties over the years with the European Union, including the immigration agreement.

At present, Switzerland allows a limited quota on the number of LDS missionaries entering from foreign countries beside the EU — 80 in 2010, 50 in 2011 and none in 2012.

The immigration policy dates back to a bilateral agreement between the EU and Switzerland on the movement of people between the two.

The agreement, which initially went into effect in 2002, allows members of European Union countries to seek employment in Switzerland while restricting work permits for non-EU foreigners.

Earlier this year, a Swiss court ruled missionaries subject to the foreigner-employment quotas, deeming missionaries as "gainfully employed."

Mormon missionaries are unpaid volunteers, serving for two years without compensation and not competing for employment with other workers.

"The church has a long history in Switzerland dating back to 1850," said LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter. "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 cultural of the country."

Appealing to the Swiss embassy earlier this year on behalf of the LDS Church, its volunteer missionary program in Switzerland and its long-standing relationship with the country were 14 members of the U.S. Senate, including LDS members Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho).

"We expect an ongoing dialogue with the Swiss government representatives and U.S. officials to ensure that responsible religious missionaries have the fullest possibly opportunity to continue their work abroad with the minimum of bureaucratic hurdles," Crapo told swissinfo.ch, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation's nine-language internet news and information platform.

The embassy's response was mixed.

In correspondence to the U.S. senators then-Swiss ambassador Urs Ziswiler, who tenure ended in mid-October, offered 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," he wrote.

However, Ziswler told swissinfo.ch: "We have several similar cases from other countries, and to make an exception for the Mormons would create a precedent."

The LDS Church created the Swiss Mission in 1850 and in 1955 dedicated its first "overseas" temple outside of North America — originally named the Swiss Temple and now the Bern Switzerland Temple. It sits in the northern suburb of Zollikofen.

As of the first of 2010, nearly 8,000 members of the church resided among Switzerland's population of 7.6 million, with the church counting five stakes, 24 wards and 12 branches in the country.

e-mail: taylor@desnews.com

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