EU immigration: Switzerland’s foreign workers in numbers

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.

EU immigration: Switzerland’s foreign workers in numbers
Foreigners come to Switzerland from many countries. Photo by AFP

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.





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”.