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In numbers: What we know about Switzerland's foreign residents

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In numbers: What we know about Switzerland's foreign residents
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Almost one in four Swiss residents are foreign born. From why they decided to move to Switzerland to how many learn the languages, we breakdown what you need to know about Switzerland’s foreign population.


The Swiss Federal Department of Home Affairs has released its annual report on migration and labour. 

The report, entitled ‘Reasons for migration and conditions upon arrival: differences by nationality groups’, breaks down migrants in Switzerland according to source countries: EU countries, non-EU European countries and non-European countries. 

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From language competency to why foreigners made the move to Switzerland, here are the findings. 

How many foreigners are in Switzerland - and where do they come from?

In total, 22 percent of the Swiss working-age population - between 15 and 74 - are foreign nationals. The majority are from European Union countries - around 66 percent - while 16 percent are from European countries which are not part of the EU. 

The remaining 17 percent of internationals in Switzerland have come from outside Europe, while there is 0.1 percent - roughly 1500 people - who are considered stateless. 


Why do people end up in Switzerland? 

In a country with a strong economy and a demand for foreign workers, it would perhaps be assumed that the major reason for heading to Switzerland is for work. Surprisingly, work is in second place. 

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The report found 43 percent of foreigners came to Switzerland for family reasons, whether this be to rejoin members of their family or to start a family of their own. 

Just under a third - 32 percent - of foreigners indicated they made the move for professional reasons. Another sign of the strong Swiss economy was that the vast majority - 68 percent - already had jobs before they migrated, with 31 percent not having a job before their arrival. 

Rounding out the responses was six percent saying they came for reasons of asylum and five percent to study. Finally, 12 percent came for ‘other reasons’, which included the Swiss healthcare system, tax framework or friends and acquaintances. 

Will I stay or will I go now?

The report revealed that foreigners in Switzerland were relatively satisfied - enough to call the country home well into the future, at least. 

The majority of foreigners in Switzerland intended on sticking around permanently, with 63 percent not planning to return home. 

Of those who wanted to leave, ten percent were planning on staying for at least five years - while three percent wanted to leave before then. 

While those from EU countries and those from outside the EU indicated a similar preference (roughly 60 percent) for staying, 75 percent of foreigners from European non-EU countries said they would not be leaving Switzerland. 


Where to?

If Switzerland wasn’t to be home in the future, then where would be? 

More than half of those surveyed said they would be returning to their home country when they left Switzerland (56 percent). Around 25 percent said they would move on to another country, while the rest were unsure. 

Of the reasons listed, homesickness, family, quality of life and work/study were listed as reasons for returning. 


As we’ve written about frequently on The Local Switzerland, learning one or more of the languages used in Switzerland can be a major barrier to integration. 

As the authors of the report noted, speaking a Swiss language will dictate which kind of jobs you can and can’t do. 

“A good command of one of Switzerland’s national languages can be seen as both an essential requirement and as the result of successful integration” the authors said. 

All in all, three in five foreigners spoke one or more Swiss languages prior to their arrival. This was particularly the case in EU countries, where just over 20 percent said they didn’t speak either French, German or Italian upon arriving in the country. 

Conversely, more than 70 percent of non-EU European countries - and 50 percent of arrivals from non-European countries - could speak a national language on their arrival. 





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