EU workers in Switzerland are ‘young and well educated,’ new research shows

Switzerland is in second place in Europe, behind only Luxemburg, in terms of the number of EU and EFTA nationals employed in the country.

EU workers in Switzerland are  ‘young and well educated,' new research shows
A quarter of Switzerland's workforce comes from the EU. Photo by AFP

According to data compiled by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, 25 percent of Switzerland’s workforce comes from EU and EFTA states.

This percentage represents around 1.4 million people, including over 330,000 cross-border workers who commute daily to their Swiss jobs from France, Italy, Germany, and Austria. 

“Participation in the Swiss labour market is extremely high among EU nationals,” Boris Zürcher, head of the labour department at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) said in an interview with RTS television. 

READ MORE: Switzerland sees increase in number of foreign workers 

However, this foreign workforce are not taking jobs away from the Swiss.

“They have complementary qualifications. Often, companies look for people who are specialists in a particular field and they can’t find them in Switzerland. Therefore, they recruit them from abroad,” Zürcher added.

This is contrary to the comments made recently by a rightwing politician Magdalena Martullo-Blocher, who told the media that foreigners “are taking the place of the Swiss” in the job market. 

“Most often these workers come from a neighbouring country, relatively young and well educated,” Swiss migration specialist Laure Sandoz said in an interview. 

In fact, nearly 60 percent of EU/EFTA nationals in Switzerland occupy positions in so-called intellectual, scientific or highly qualified professions, according to the 2020 report of the Observatory on the Free Movement of Persons.

They mainly work in the pharma, finance or new technology sectors. About 10 percent are in management positions.

Sandoz noted “a shift in migratory flows” between the EU / EFTA and Switzerland since the free movement of people agreement entred into force in 2002.

“At the beginning, there were a lot of French and German applicants. Little by little, the phenomenon has moved to southern Europe,” she said.

Today, the trend seems to be shifting to Eastern Europe, notably Poland, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria, where restrictions on free movement were lifted when these nations joined the EU, Sandoz added.

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Switzerland sees increase in number of foreign workers

A document released this week by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) indicates “strong immigration of foreign workers” to Switzerland over the past five years.

Switzerland sees increase in number of foreign workers
Most foreign workers come from the EU.Photo by AFP

The FSO reported that between the end of 2014 and the end of 2019, the number of foreign nationals in the Swiss labour market went up by more than 9 percent, for a total of 1.7 million people — roughly 20 percent of Switzerland’s 8.5-million  population.

This increase is five times greater than for workers of Swiss nationality, the FSO said.

But while the numbers have risen, the make-up of the foreign employees remains roughly the same.

The vast majority — nearly 50 percent — hold a C permit (‘settled foreign nationals’), given mainly to those who have lived in Switzerland continuously for five to 10 years.

Many of these workers eventually acquire Swiss citizenship.

Those who have a B permit (‘resident foreign nationals’) account for about 28 percent of foreign workers. 

The majority of the workforce comes from the EU countries.

The report also shows that foreign workers are more affected by unemployment, with a rate twice as high as among the population of Swiss nationality.

However, these figures pre-date the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Earlier in August, the FSO also published a report showing that the number of cross-border workers in Switzerland has also increased. 

There are now 332,177 employees who commute to their Swiss jobs daily from France, Italy, Germany, and Austria —2.9 percent more compared to the same period last year.

But not everyone in the country is happy about the influx of immigrant workers.

Last week, a Swiss right-wing politician, Magdalena Martullo-Blocher, said that foreigners are “taking jobs from the Swiss”.

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

This controversial issue will be voted on on September 27th in a referendum seeking to restrict migration to Switzerland.