Asylum seekers to be allocated to cantons using artificial intelligence

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Asylum seekers to be allocated to cantons using artificial intelligence
An Eritrean asylum seeker working in a sawmill in Schwyz. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The government is to launch a pilot project that uses artificial intelligence to decide where to place asylum seekers to improve their chances of finding a job.


From September 1,000 people who have lodged an asylum application will be allocated to different cantons using a computer algorithm developed by researchers at the ETH Zurich and Stanford University in the United States, SRF television’s 10vor10 news programme reported.

Instead of distributing applicants randomly, as at present, the authorities will be able to place them in the cantons where they have the best chances of employment.

At present only 15 percent of asylum seekers have managed to find a job after three years, according to SRF.

It is hoped that using the computer programme the number finding work after three years will increase to 30 percent. 

The algorithm calculates the right canton for the individual applicant on the basis of a number of factors including their age, country of origin, language and gender. 

It decides which local area provides the best fit, taking into account the language spoken and the presence of ethnic minority networks. 

This could mean placing a French speaker in western Switzerland where they can communicate rather than in a German-speaking canton where they cannot.

At the same time legal guidelines stipulating that different nationalities be distributed evenly among the cantons will continue to apply.

Daniel Bach, a spokesman for the State Secretariat for Migration, said the algorithm would take these regulations into account when it made its recommendations.

It could mean, for instance, that young Syrians are more likely to be allocated to rural cantons where agricultural work is available whereas older Syrians would be sent to cantons offering employment in the services sector, the newspaper 20 Minuten reported.

According to Professor Dominik Hangartner, the idea behind the algorithm is to find solutions that improve the asylum process and the level of applicants’ integration, a news release on the ETH website said.

“At the end of the day it eases the burden on government, cantons and communes if migrants can find work,” he said.

Hangartner said other countries were also interested in using the technology.

Only those asylum seekers considered to have the best chances of remaining in Switzerland will be included in the project.


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