Fewer arrivals but more foreign residents: How Switzerland's coronavirus epidemic has affected immigration

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Fewer arrivals but more foreign residents: How Switzerland's coronavirus epidemic has affected immigration
Tourists take a picture of a large Swiss flag. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Immigration to Switzerland fell sharply in the first half of 2020 as a direct result of the pandemic. Despite this, the foreign resident population in Switzerland has grown.


New figures from the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) have shown the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on migration to Switzerland. 

For the first time in decades, Switzerland put in place strict controls on immigration which led to a significant fall in immigrants from January to June in 2020. 

In March, Switzerland’s Federal Council temporarily halted entry to Switzerland for all except residents, citizens and cross-border workers. 

READ: How Switzerland avoided a coronavirus 'catastrophe' by protecting cross-border workers 

Even those who possessed a valid work permit were restricted from moving to Switzerland unless there was an “overriding public interest” in their profession, i.e. health care, energy, logistics and other limited areas. 

The result was a fall in immigration - although the number of foreign residents still managed to grow during this time. 


Decline in new arrivals

Although the pandemic began to sweep through Switzerland in late February, it was not until late March when the first immigration controls came into place - meaning that the impact wasn’t seen until April. 

Immigration in April was down 28 percent, with 5,132 people arriving in Switzerland. In May, there was a 42 percent decrease on figures from the previous year, with 4,208 making the move Swiss-wards. 

While travel restrictions were largely lifted on June 8th, the 6,460 people who made the move in June was eight percent below the previous year’s figure. 


But why are there now more foreigners in Switzerland?

Despite the decrease, a total of 58,730 people made the move to Switzerland in the first six months of 2020 - a higher figure than in 2019. 

There were two main reasons for the increase. 

Firstly, pre-pandemic migration numbers from January and February were higher in 2020 than in 2019. 

The second was a decline in emigration - i.e. foreign residents leaving Switzerland - by 14.4 percent, due at least in part to the pandemic. 


The result is a net increase of 25,995 people in Switzerland from January until June in 2020 - 1,323 more than from the same period in 2019.

As the SEM wrote “the coronavirus pandemic and the protective measures taken in Switzerland and most other countries have had a significant impact on migration. In the permanent foreign resident population, there was a sharp decline in both effective immigration (from abroad) and emigration.”

The figures are however positive for Swiss businesses. 

“Thanks to the immigration of workers from the EU / EFTA / UK, the needs of the Swiss economy could be met,” wrote the SEM. 

“The corresponding data show that the occupational groups that ensure the availability of essential goods and services were exempt from the restrictions.”

How many foreigners live in Switzerland? 

At the end of June, almost 2.2 million foreigners lived in Switzerland - roughly one quarter of the country’s total population. 

READ: Where do Switzerland's foreigners all live? 

Two-thirds have lived in Switzerland for longer than five years. 

Roughly 75 percent of the foreigners who live in Switzerland come from EU or EFTA countries (1,455,231). 



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