(Bloomberg) -- Swiss businesses have benefited from being able to easily tap foreign workers, according to a government report published amid political fighting over immigration and free movement of people from the European Union.

A record number — a net 142,300 — immigrated to Switzerland last year, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs said Monday. The economy “depends heavily” on workers from abroad, it said, not only for skilled jobs in health, technology and science, but also for hospitality, construction and manufacturing.

The report comes as Switzerland tries to negotiate a new economic deal with the EU to replace an array of partially outdated agreements. While there are many points of contention, immigration is among the most controversial. The right-wing Swiss People’s Party — the largest in parliament — is campaigning against Switzerland giving up any of its power to control immigration, at times in lockstep with unions which fear that immigrants might erode high local wages.

Talks started in March after the government dropped out of an earlier attempt at a deal. It’s unclear when an agreement will be reached, and any accord will probably have to go to a national vote. 

According to SECO, the influx of mostly highly skilled people from the EU in recent decades helped companies to fill positions and boosted overall productivity growth. On top of regular immigration, almost 400,000 cross-border workers commuted into Switzerland from neighboring France, Italy and Germany last year — a quarter of those alone in Geneva. 

“We are doing well as a prospering economy with almost full employment,” Helene Budliger Artieda, head of SECO, said in Bern. “We should therefore ask ourselves what price we might have to pay for an alternative to the free movement of persons.”

In addition to workers, last year’s immigration into Switzerland was boosted by refugees from Ukraine, which accounted for a third of the total.

SECO’s report acknowledged the controversy around immigration, noting the tensions that have erupted elsewhere. Immigration has become a big political theme in countries including the UK, Germany and France, where nationalist parties have gained ground. In Switzerland, the People’s Party wants a cap on the population, which would also shut out high-earning foreigners.

Budliger pointed to an analysis of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU in the report, which found that many EU nationals left the country, while immigration from other countries soared.

“This is to illustrate that supposedly simple answers are often not the right solution to complex problems,” she said.

(Updates with comments from SECO head starting in sixth paragraph)

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