Commissioned by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and led by the Institute of Economic Research (IRE) at the University of Italian Switzerland in Lugano, the study examined the consequences of cross-border workers – or ‘frontalieri' – on Ticino's job market.
After publication was pushed back several times, its controversial conclusions were finally leaked to the press this week, reports newspaper Tribune de Genève.
“Nothing proves that resorting to cross-border workers has increased the risk of unemployment among the resident population – neither in Switzerland nor in Ticino,” said the study.
The topic is a sensitive one in Ticino, where more than one out of four workers live over the Italian border, a number which has doubled since 2002, reaching 62,555 in the second trimester of 2015.
Many locals feel that the high number of cross-border workers has contributed to raising unemployment and reducing salaries in the canton.
Ticino's fairly stable unemployment rate was 3.4 percent in August, two tenths higher than the national average, while the canton also has the lowest average salary in the country.
The IRE's study used data from the Swiss statistics office covering 95,000 workers, unemployed or inactive people during the years 2003-2013.
It also drew on a questionnaire sent to 328 businesses in the canton, the results of which indicated that the lower salaries demanded by cross-border workers comprised only a “secondary criteria” in the recruitment process. Those hired were simply more suited to the post, said the report.
The study didn't address the canton's weak salaries and the proliferation of casual contracts.
Local politicians have reacted in anger.
“The reality that I see every day on the ground, particularly in the course of my union activities, is completely different to that depicted in this study,” said Giorgio Fonio of the Christian Democrat Party, told the paper.
Responding to the controversy in a press release, the University of Italian Switzerland said “the methodology used in the study is based on established analysis techniques used in the most recent scientific literature”.
“Based on the data analyzed, it appears there is no statistically significant effect of immigration (both border workers and foreign residents) on the probability of local residents exiting the job market.”
The statement pointed out that while the statistics may not reflect individual cases where a local worker was replaced by a foreign worker – cases that generally garner significant media and political attention – the study couldn't identify any general trend towards the systematic substitution of locals for foreigners.
Though it was an initial objective, the study did not deal with the effect of immigration on wages because a federal report published earlier this year had already dealt with the subject, said the university.
Commenting on criticism of the study, the director of the IRE, Rico Maggi, stood firm.
“In Ticino, we sometimes struggle to accept scientific reality,” he told the paper.
Despite the study, it's likely the issue will continue to be a hot potato in the canton.
In 2014, Ticino raised taxes on frontalieri, and in April this year authorities imposed tougher conditions on cross-border workers including a requirement that Italian nationals supply a copy of their criminal record.
Back In February some businesses in the town of Claro started displaying a pro-Swiss badge advertising the percentage of Swiss workers they employed.