How immigration in Switzerland benefits the country

How immigration in Switzerland benefits the country
Workers from the EU benefit Switzerland's economy. Photo by AFP
The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) believes that the free movement of people, which allows citizens of EU and EFTA nations to work in Switzerland, has a positive effect on the country’s economy.

In its new report released on Monday, which is based on the 2019 figures, SECO outlined the positive impact that workers from the EU and EFTA countries have had on Switzerland’s labour market.

These are some of the report’s key findings:

Migrant workforce meets the demands of the Swiss economy

“Immigration from the EU / EFTA to Switzerland is strongly geared to the needs of the economy, as highlighted by the high level of participation in the labour market”, SECO said.

The activity rate of EU nationals was 87.7 percent in 2019, compared to 84.6 percent for Swiss nationals. “Immigration therefore contributes significantly to increasing the participation of foreigners in working life in Switzerland”, the report found.

But while the native Swiss are more often hired for jobs requiring higher professional qualifications, immigrants are engaged for posts requiring a lower level of qualifications.

READ MORE: Where do Switzerland’s foreigners all live? 

Gainful employment

In 2019, 89 percent of men and 80 percent of women aged 15 to 64 who immigrated to Switzerland after June 2002 — the year when the free movement of people went into effect — were gainfully employed. 

The report said that more immigrant women work full-time and longer hours than their counterparts born in Switzerland.

Positive contribution to the flexibility of the labour market

Compared to native Swiss employees, more foreigners have temporary jobs and work more often at night or in the evening. “They offer a flexible labour pool for companies subjected to seasonal fluctuations”, SECO said.

READ MORE: Workers from non-European countries can soon return to Switzerland


The unemployment rate for people from the EU / EFTA remains above the national average. This can be explained by the concentration of EU / EFTA workers in sectors relatively more affected by unemployment, SECO explained.


“Salary growth in Switzerland remains broadly balanced with regard to the different levels of education”, the report states.

“However, the median wage of the Swiss remains significantly higher than the median wage of all workers”, SECO added.

Family reunification

While citizens of EU / EFTA countries come to Switzerland for employment, family reunification is the main reason for immigration from third countries.

“The majority of family members who come to Switzerland as part of family reunification are economically independent and earn a salary”. 

According to the report, “the integration into the labour market of EU / EFTA nationals who immigrated within the framework of family reunification is more marked than that of third-country nationals, both in terms of professional integration and income”.

Social assistance

Professional integration and the use of social assistance are closely linked, the report found.

Only 3.4 percent of EU / EFTA immigrants who arrived in Switzerland in 2009 relied on social help within eight years of their arrival.

There's less risk of having to resort to social assistance with the higher the level of education. People from the EU / EFTA countries who have immigrated as part of a family reunification and who depend on social assistance, “often manage to free themselves quickly and regain economic independence”, SECO notes.

Some 2,125,410 foreign nationals were resident in Switzerland at the end of March 2020, including 1,452 421 from the EU, as well as from Norway, Iceland, and the United Kingdom.

The highest number of foreigners come from Italy (15.3 percent), Germany (14.6 percent), Portugal (12 percent), France (6.7 percent), Kosovo (5,4 percent), and Spain (4 percent).


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