For members


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

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.

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

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. 

READ MORE: How Switzerland must change to prepare for the future

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. 

Racism in Switzerland: ‘People of colour are automatically perceived as foreigners’

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. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.