Over a third of Switzerland’s population has migration background

A new document released by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) and the Universities of Neuchâtel and Fribourg shows some interesting facts about Switzerland’s foreign population.

Over a third of Switzerland’s population has migration background
A new study examined immigration to Switzerland. Photo by AFP

Foreign nationals living in Switzerland are very diverse in terms of education, occupational situation, age, migration status, and country of origin, the report shows.

Not surprisingly, their language skills and social participation improve with their length of stay in Switzerland.

In addition, immigrants tend to quickly, although never fully, integrate into the labour market. However, households with a migration background have lower incomes and wealth than their native Swiss counterparts. 

Here are some of the study’s other key findings:

Over a third of the population is connected to migration

The study makes a distinction among three categories of immigrants and their descendants.

The population with foreign citizenship comprises around 2.1 million people (25 percent of the whole population); people born abroad account for about 2.6 million (30 percent); and approximately 2.7 million people over the age of 15 (38 percent) have a migration background of some kind.

Gap is narrowing but differences remain

The gap in average income between people with and without a migration background decreases considerably as time goes by. 

The higher unemployment rate among immigrants immediately after their arrival in Switzerland diminishes the longer they stay in the country. 

While their labour market participation in the year of immigration is considerably lower than that of persons born in Switzerland, the gap closes over time, but without completely disappearing.

Households with a migration background have lower incomes and wealth

The study compared the income and wealth of households with and without a migration background in Switzerland and Germany. 

In both countries, households with a migration background have a lower disposable income and less wealth. 

Household size is an important factor: those with a migration background tend to be larger and share their income and wealth with more people than families with no migration background. 

Additionally, households with a migration background are less likely to own their own home in Switzerland than in Germany.

READ MORE: Foreigners are 'taking jobs from the Swiss,' says politician 

There are major cantonal differences in access to citizenship

The study found cantonal differences in granting of citizenship and the factors influencing the authorities’ practice with regard to integration policy.

Cantons with a liberal political orientation are more likely to adopt an inclusive approach. 

That’s because in cantons with a greater mix of people and a higher degree of urbanisation, the population is more open-minded and has a more positive attitude towards cultural diversity than in more conservative regions.

In March, The Local published an article which cited official studies demonstrating that big cities in Switzerland naturalise the highest number of foreigners. 

For example, in Zürich, 17,000 foreigners were naturalised between 2011 and 2017 — the highest number in Switzerland.

Geneva followed with 9,760 naturalisations, Lausanne with 6,019, Basel with 4,975, and Winterthur with 3,368.

On the other hand, some regions have not granted citizenships to any foreigners in nearly 30 years.

Member comments

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


Amnesty decries Swiss asylum centre abuse

Minors and adults housed in Swiss asylum centres have faced serious abuses at the hands of security staff, including beatings and chokeholds, Amnesty International warned Wednesday.

Amnesty decries Swiss asylum centre abuse
An asylum centre in the Alpine village of Realp, Central Switzerland. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

In a report, the rights organisation’s Swiss chapter detailed “alarming abuse” in the country’s federal asylum centres, and called for urgent government action to address the problem.

The report documents a range of abuses by staff of the private security companies Securitas and Protectas, which had been contracted by Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).

Amnesty said it had spoken with 14 asylum seekers, including two minors, who reported having faced abuse from the security officers between January 2020 and April 2021, along with 18 current and former security agents and other witnesses.

The asylum seekers described being beaten and physically restrained to the point where they could not breathe or fainted.

Some also complained about trouble breathing after being doused with pepper spray, and being locked in a metal container in freezing temperatures.

The report found that six of the alleged victims had to be hospitalised, while two said they had been denied the medical assistance they had requested.

“In addition to complaints about physical pain, mistreatment and punitive treatment, these people also voiced concerns about (security staff’s) hostility, prejudice and racism towards the residents,” said Alice Giraudel, a lawyer with Amnesty’s Swiss branch.

Such attitudes had seemed to target people of North African origin in particular, she said. Some of the abuse cases, Amnesty said, “could amount to torture”, and would thus violate Switzerland’s obligations under international law.

In a media statement, the SEM said it took the criticism “very seriously”, but rejected the suggestion that abuses were taking place in a systematic manner in federal asylum centres.

It stressed that there was no acceptance for “disproportionate constraint” of asylum seekers, and vowed to “sanction all improper behaviour.”

Giraudel hailed that the SEM had recently announced it would open an external probe into isolated abuse allegations.

But, she insisted, the situation was alarming and required the government to stop looking at allegations of abuse as the work of “a few bad apples”.