'Substantial benefit to Switzerland': New study debunks misconceptions about EU workers

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'Substantial benefit to Switzerland': New study debunks misconceptions about EU workers
Immigrants from the EU "have a positive impact" on the Swiss economy. Photo by AFP

Despite some claims to the contrary, the free movement of people has had a positive impact on the Swiss economy, a new study concludes.


Research by Avenir Suisse, a think-tank for economic and social issues, has been published, ahead of the upcoming vote on limiting immigration from the European Union.

Over 87 percent of immigrants who came to Switzerland under the Free Movement of People Agreement (AFMP) — the bi-lateral treaty that allows EU and EFTA nationals to work in Switzerland — participate in the labour market, the study reported.

But the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), has launched a referendum, to be voted on September 27th, seeking to limit the number of immigrants coming to Switzerland from the EU.

One of the arguments the party used to gather support for its cause is that foreign workers take jobs away from the Swiss and have a detrimental effect on the country’s economy and life in general.

But the study found that the SVP’s stance is “riddled with contradictory arguments”. 


“This country derives substantial benefit from the free movement of persons”, the study concluded. 

To prove this point, Avenir Suisse examined the reasons most frequently cited by the SVP for restricting immigration, and put them through an ‘economic fact check’.

This what the think-tank found: 

The free movement of persons has not resulted in mass immigration.

Since the AFMP was implemented in 2002, annual net migration from the EU area has averaged 43,000. However, since there was positive net migration from the EU/EFTA area even prior to the agreement, the number of immigrants resulting directly from the AFMP is likely much lower — between 10,000 and 15,000 people. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Switzerland's referendum to restrict EU migration

The free movement of persons has not contributed to wage dumping and the displacement of local workers.

The AFMP has not had a major negative impact on pay and employment, Avenir Suisse said. A dozen or so analyses done on this subject found that the overall displacement effects from AFMP-related migration have been minor. 

However, while the AFMP improved the economic situation for local workers with low to medium qualifications, “a certain amount of pressure on the pay of highly qualified Swiss workers can be observed”, the study said.


The free movement of persons doesn’t strain the social insurance system.

Taking into account the relative size of the various social insurance schemes, “the significant positive contribution of EU/EFTA nationals to the finances of the old-age, disability, and health insurance systems outweighs the negative effects of unemployment and social security benefits”, Avenir Suisse noted.

The free movement of persons doesn’t reduce the level of qualifications in the workforce. 

Of those coming to Switzerland from the EU/EFTA area since 2002, 84 percent have an upper- secondary level education, and 55 percent have a university degree. 

Since highly qualified workers are the ones who come to Switzerland, the free movement of persons “has had a positive impact overall on the structure of qualifications among immigrants”, the think-tank found.

The free movement of persons has not led to the increased housing costs.

According to Avenir Suisse, immigration has had an impact on housing costs in some places, particularly in large and cities. 

On balance, however, rents on the new and existing housing market “are back to the levels of 1988 and 1995, after adjustment for inflation”. 

Overall, people’s ability to afford the costs of housing has improved since 2002, the study found: Swiss households now spend only 14 percent on housing, less than ever before.

Crime rates have not gone up since the free movement of persons went into effect.

The study’s findings show that “Switzerland has become safer since the AFMP came into force.”

In 2002, the year the agreement was implemented, 86 percent of Switzerland’s population felt safe; in 2020, that number rose to 95 percent.

Avenir Suisse attributes this increase to the successful international police cooperation involving the Schengen Information System (SIS). 

Additionally, the study emphasized the important role immigrants have played in various areas of Switzerland’s economic life and, more recently, in the pandemic:

The AFMP contributed to Switzerland prosperity.

“Since the introduction of the agreement, there have been positive developments in many economically relevant indicators, including real per-capita GDP, labour productivity, and export volumes”, Avenir Suisse reported.

Citizens of EU states have had a major role in curtailing the Covid-19 outbreak.

According to the study, people from the EU and EFTA nations account for 19 percent of the Switzerland’s healthcare workforce. 

In Geneva alone, 50 percent of employees at the University Hospitals (HUG) come from France.

If the restrictions are accepted in the referendum, there will be “an abrupt break in economic relations with our French and German neighbours and the whole of the European Union," said Pierre Maudet, the deputy in charge of Geneva’s economy. 



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