BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Four central European countries protested on Friday against Switzerland's cut in permits for immigrant workers, saying the measure undermined its image as an open and friendly country.
The Visegrad group - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia - issued a joint statement expressing "deep regret" over the Swiss decision.
"We deplore this measure firstly because the Swiss authorities differentiate among EU member states by singling out selected countries - even though some of our states did not fulfill migrant worker quotas," they said in a statement posted on the Hungarian government's website kormany.hu.
"And secondly, because we see this as a purely political decision, with our countries representing only 10 percent of the EU migrant workers in Switzerland."
Switzerland said on Wednesday it would reimpose quotas on workers from central and eastern Europe, cutting the number of permits granted annually by two thirds, and immediately drew strong criticism from European Union officials.
"This measure is neither economically justified by the labor market situation nor by the number of EU citizens seeking residence in Switzerland," EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said in a strongly worded statement.
The Swiss cabinet said it had decided to invoke a "safeguard clause" in its agreement with the EU on the free movement of people and would reimpose quotas that were abolished a year ago for citizens from central and eastern Europe.
From May 1 it will grant 2,000 permits for citizens of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary to live and work in Switzerland, compared with the 6,000 permits granted in the last year.
Despite the euro zone crisis and wider economic turbulence, Switzerland has kept unemployment at a low 3 percent and has had a sizeable influx of workers from EU countries in recent years.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Tim Pearce)