EU immigration: Switzerland’s foreign workers in numbers

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
EU immigration: Switzerland’s foreign workers in numbers
Foreigners come to Switzerland from many countries. Photo by AFP

Foreign nationals living in Switzerland account for nearly 25 percent of the country’s population. Official figures reveal a lot of interesting facts about these people.


This information is even more relevant ahead of the nationwide referendum on September 27th, which seeks to restrict the number of EU immigrants coming to Switzerland. 

How many foreign nationals live in Switzerland?

Figures released by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) show that 18,386 foreigners came to Switzerland between January and March 2020, which is 3,013 people more than in the same period last year. 

According to Federal Statistical Office, out of 2,176 million foreign nationals who live in Switzerland, the majority – about 1,434 million — come from the EU and EFTA states

The others (about 248,000 in total) are from non-EU countries like Kosovo, Macedonia and Turkey.

Immigrants from Africa, America (North and South) and Asia add up to around 365,000.

Switzerland's total population is just over 8.5 million.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why Switzerland's EU free movement referendum could impact much more than immigration 

What are the main nationalities of Switzerland’s foreigners?

Italian (321,000), German (307,000), Portuguese (260,000) and French (139,000) citizens make up the majority of immigrants from the European Union.

The roughly 42,000 Britons who live in Switzerland are not counted in the EU statistics since the UK’s exit from the bloc.


Where in Switzerland do foreigners live?

A study released in June by the University of Geneva found “a strong foreign presence” in and around large cities, which are close to economic centres and job opportunities — such as the shores of Lake Geneva or Lake Zurich. 

The highest concentration of foreigners (62.4 percent) can be found in the Crissier suburb of Lausanne, according to the study.

The lowest number of foreign nationals, on the other hand, is in Röthenbach, located in the Bernese Emmental region, where there are only 37 foreigners among 1,172 residents.

The distribution of different nationalities across Switzerland varies widely and in many cases is language and geography-based. For instance, Germans, French, and Italians live mostly in their respective linguistic regions.

The Portuguese and Turks are usually concentrated in neighbourhoods with relatively cheap housing, regardless of the canton, researchers found.

“One can wonder about the existence of network effects, which would push the new members to establish themselves in the immediate entourage of the diaspora”, the study's authors noted.


Why do immigrants come to Switzerland?

According to research from University of Neuchâtel, most (36 percent) come for work or education. 

Looking at individual countries, the percentage of those who immigrate for professional reasons is 50 percent for EU and EFTA nationals, 46 percent for the UK, and 40 percent for North America.

Where are EU citizens working in Switzerland?

University of Neuchâtel showed that 60 percent of immigrants work in 'elementary occupations', defined as ‘routine tasks which mainly require the use of hand-held tools and often some physical effort’.

Nearly 50 percent are employed in factories, 40 percent in craft and related trades, and 30 percent in service and sales.

A quarter or less have managerial-level jobs or are considered as ‘professionals’, meaning that their jobs require a degree.

Other interesting facts:

• Over 37 percent of Switzerland’s population have migration background; 24 percent of them have foreign citizenship, while the rest are Swiss either by birth or naturalisation. 

• In 2018, the last year for which data is available, over 967,000 foreigners were granted Swiss citizenship. Once naturalised, these people no longer show in statistics as foreign residents.







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