Foreign residents now make up more than a quarter of the population in Switzerland

International residents now represent more than a quarter of the population in Switzerland, according to data released on Friday by the Federal Statistical Office, though the number of new immigrants arriving is falling.

Foreign residents now make up more than a quarter of the population in Switzerland
Switzerland's international population is growing, but more slowly than before. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

By the end of 2017 there were 2.13 million foreign nationals among Switzerland's total population of 8.48 million, making up 25.1 percent of all residents.

Most foreign residents are Europeans, with Italians making up the largest group, followed by Germans and Portuguese.

More than half of foreign residents were born in Switzerland or have lived here for at least ten years. 

New arrivals, meanwhile, are in decline. Around 171,000 foreigners moved to Switzerland last year, some 20,000 fewer than in 2016. Year on year the international population increased by just 0.2 percent, compared to growth the previous year of 2.6 percent.

READ ALSO: Where in Switzerland do foreigners choose to live?

Those figures don't reflect the nearly 45,000 people who became naturalized Swiss citizens last year. The number of people acquiring citizenship, while much smaller than the number immigrating, is increasing at a faster rate: just under 5 percent from 2016 to 2017.

In this category Germans lead the pack, followed by Italians and Portuguese.

Overall, the total population of Switzerland remained practically stable in 2017: it increased by less than a percentage point – 0.8 percent – compared to the year before, which demographers put down largely to the declining immigration rate.


Photo: arnaldo.jr/Depositphotos

For members


Reader question: How can I bring my family to live with me in Switzerland?

Family reunification can be tricky in Switzerland, depending on where you and your family are from. Here is what you need to know.

Reader question: How can I bring my family to live with me in Switzerland?

If you live in Switzerland, you might want to bring your family from abroad to live with you. However, this will not be possible in every case, as the rules for family reunification vary broadly depending on where you and your family are from and how closely related you are.

Family reunification might not be a given right for those living in Switzerland on a permit. Instead, it may be a possibility left to the discretion of the authorities. Unlike those on a B permit (residence permit), people in Switzerland on a C permit (settlement permit), for example, don’t necessarily have a right to bring their family.

READ ALSO: Five things to consider when organising childcare in Switzerland

Additionally, you can’t bring just any family members to Switzerland. Who you are allowed to bring, and under what circumstances, will depend on your nationality.

For Swiss citizens

If the person living in Switzerland is a Swiss citizen, they are allowed to bring their spouse or registered partner, any children and grandchildren under the age of 18 (or 21 or dependent if the child comes from an EU/EFTA country), your dependent parents and grandparents if they come from an EU/EFTA country.

For citizens of an EU/EFTA country

Citizens of the European Union or an EFTA country can bring a spouse or registered partner, any children or grandchildren under the age of 21 (or dependent), and any dependent parents or grandparents.

For citizens from a third country

Citizens from a third country such as the US, Canada, Brazil, the UK, South Africa or Australia, for example, are only allowed to bring a spouse or registered partner and children under the age of 18.

How to bring them?

It’s important to mention that there are time limits to applying for family reunification. In general, people have five years to apply for family reunification, but only one year if the application is for children over 12 years old. The Swiss government says it is “so that they can integrate more rapidly into Swiss society”.

READ ALSO: What is the EU’s ‘single permit’ for third-country nationals and can I get one?

There are several other conditions that need to be met. For example, you need to prove the relationship to the person you want to bring, and you need to have a large enough accommodation to house the whole family.

Additionally, those who are self-employed or unemployed need to show proof of sufficient financial resources.

The family members need a valid identity card or passport, a visa (if necessary), and a certificate proving the relationship and proving they are dependents (if required). In addition, a spouse needs to show proof of A1 language or a certificate of enrolment in a language course of the area where they apply for the permit.

The application must be made with the immigration authority in your canton, who may ask for extra documents or further information.

READ ALSO: How long can I stay out of Switzerland and keep my residency rights?

If the application is accepted, the family members will receive a residence permit – the exact type depends on the person in Switzerland’s status. The family will be allowed to work in Switzerland unless they are parents or grandparents.

Children are required to attend free compulsory schooling at least until the age of 16 and all family members need to have a Swiss health insurance.

Each canton may have its own particular rules and minor differences in status and documents may lead to different outcomes depending on the case. Therefore, don’t forget to check with your cantonal immigration authority what applies to your particular case.