ZURICH, Sept 29 (Reuters) - For a second year, Switzerland will allow more foreign specialists to be recruited from countries outside the European Union, a move aimed at giving companies access to a bigger pool of qualified workers.
The country is home to multinational companies including Nestle, Novartis, Roche and ABB that rely on many foreign engineers and scientists.
Switzerland generally allows for free movement of people from the EU, a pivotal element of maintaining enhanced market access to its largest trading partner.
However, workers from countries outside the EU fall under quotas and face higher hurdles, including requirements that a company first seek a qualified job candidate from within the local Swiss labour market or the EU.
The government agreed on Friday to allow 3,500 five-year "B" residence permits next year for people from so-called "third countries" outside the EU, or 500 more than in 2017.
That raises the total quota to 8,000 permits, including short-term "L" residence permits valid for a year.
"The upper limits of the quota are being raised... as the Swiss government seeks to satisfy needs of the economy by addressing continuing demand for specialists from states outside the European Union and the European Free Trade Association," the government said.
Despite raising the quota by 1,000 permits in 2017, the government said the labour situation remained tight. Unemployment fell in June to 3.1 percent, near a two-year low.
Regional governments which a month ago had asked Bern for the increase hailed Friday's announcement as good news.
"This is a step in the right direction," the canton of Geneva said. "The economy and research institutions must be able to use specialists from third countries to guarantee the prosperity of Switzerland."
More than a quarter of Switzerland's population of 8.4 million is foreign, prompting a backlash among Swiss concerned they are being overrun. A 2014 vote demanded quotas for EU workers too, sparking a temporary crisis with the bloc as such limits would have ended free movement of workers.
Late last year, however, Swiss lawmakers struck a compromise that preserved bilateral trade agreements. (Reporting by John Miller)