Report hails positive impact of EU immigrants

Report hails positive impact of EU immigrants
Photo: European Union External Action
The net number of immigrants to Switzerland from the European Union and the European free trade area (EFTA) reached 66,200 last year, an all-time high since the freedom to move accord first took effect between the Swiss and the EU 12 years ago, figures released in Bern on Wednesday show.

When immigrants from other countries are included, the net immigration rose in 2013 to 88,000, according to a report from the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) that hails the positive benefits brought by foreigners to the country.

Most of the immigrants from the EU and EFTA (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) — around 60 percent — came to Switzerland for jobs, the report said.

It noted that 58 percent of immigrants arriving last year had received post-secondary education, while 14 percent had no education beyond compulsory schooling.

In that respect, the newcomers were over-represented both in terms of being highly qualified and having few skills compared to the resident population, Seco said.

The report said that improving Swiss access to the EU workforce has contributed to strong employment growth.

Since 2002, the number of employed persons rose by 624,000 or an average of 1.3 percent a year, Seco said.

About half of this was the result of foreigners moving to Switzerland, in addition to cross-border commuters who work in Switzerland but live in neighbouring EU countries such as France, Germany and Italy.

Since the freedom of movement accord took effect, “unemployment has hardly changed”.

The high level of immigration has additionally slowed the aging of the population and relieved social costs for the elderly, Seco said

It has raised unemployment costs but these remain “in line with expectations,” it said.

The report flies in the face of concerns raised by right-wing nationalists that immigration was hurting the Swiss economy.

Swiss voters in a February referendum backed the introduction of immigration quotas, which means that Switzerland has to renegotiate the freedom of movement agreement.

Observers expect that voters will return to the polls in a couple of years to decide on new bilateral agreements with the EU. 

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