‘Foreigners rather than equals’: How Switzerland is failing immigrants

Switzerland has been ranked below most of its neighbours when it comes to immigration policies towards its non-European population, a new and extensive study on integration has concluded.

'Foreigners rather than equals': How Switzerland is failing immigrants
A sign, which reads 'too much is too much', lies on the floor ahead of Switzerland's September 2020 referendum on restricting immigration. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Switzerland’s immigration policies – which include “one of the longest and strictest residency requirements in Europe” – “encourage the public to see immigrants as foreigners and not fully as equals and neighbours,” according to the study by the EU-sponsored Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX). 

These policies “do not provide immigrants with a secure future in the country”, the research found. 

While 80 percent of immigrants to Switzerland come from European Union countries and thereby benefit from freedom of movement, the study only took into account non-European immigration. 

Switzerland ranked 25th of 52 countries surveyed – behind France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and most of central and western Europe – with the authors looking at the ‘basic rights’ that immigrants can access, along with ‘equal opportunities’ and a ‘secure future’. 

READ MORE: The Swiss cantons with the strictest citizenship requirements 

The authors found that Switzerland’s immigration policies favoured “temporary integration” rather than setting up a framework which allowed this to be comprehensive. 

Austria and Denmark ranked alongside Switzerland when it came to integration outcomes. 

The two major failings of the Swiss system for immigrants was the degree to which they are protected from discrimination and the difficulties in obtaining citizenship. 

How to apply for Swiss citizenship: An essential guide  

As noted by the authors, the problems arise due to Switzerland’s legal framework surrounding immigration, which leads to less legal protections and difficulties becoming naturalised. 

“The obstacles emerge throughout the legal framework. Victims of discrimination are less protected and supported in Switzerland than anywhere else on the continent.”

“Faced with some of the most restrictive policies in Western Europe, non-EU citizens in Switzerland are less likely to reunite with their family, enjoy a secure status or become a full citizen,” the report read.

Immigration is frequently a topic of debate in Switzerland, as approximately one quarter of Swiss residents are foreigners. 

In a September referendum, the Swiss voted against a plan to limit EU freedom of movement in Switzerland. 

A facemask with the SVP's slogan supporting the anti-migration initiative. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Final results showed that 61.7 percent of Swiss voters had balked at an initiative to tear up an agreement permitting the free movement of people between Switzerland and the surrounding EU. 

The initiative, backed by the populist right-wing SVP — Switzerland's largest party — had been opposed by the government, parliament, unions, employer organisations and all other political parties out of fear it would jeopardise overall relations with the bloc.

‘Switzerland’s approach to integration has remained relatively unchanged’

The research also finds that things have not been getting better for immigrants in Switzerland recently, making it a global outlier when compared to all other countries surveyed. 

“Over the past decade, federal policies have changed little for immigrants across Switzerland,” the authors wrote. 

“The MIPEX score for Switzerland has not changed since 2007. In contrast, the average MIPEX country increased by +2 points in the last five years, from 2014 to 2019.

“While the federal government has provided greater standards, support, funding, monitoring for integration at local and cantonal level, Switzerland’s approach to integration has remained relatively unchanged.”

Top ten countries for integration

1. Sweden 

2. Finland

3. Portugal

4. Canada

5. New Zealand

6. United States 

7. Belgium

8. Norway

9. Australia

10. Ireland

25. Switzerland

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How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.