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Employment, wages and housing: How immigrants trail the Swiss in these crucial categories

The Local Switzerland
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Employment, wages and housing: How immigrants trail the Swiss in these crucial categories
Immigrants tend to live in cities in more cramped conditions than the Swiss. Photo: PATRICK KOVARIK / AFP

Many foreigners who come to Switzerland do so for better economic opportunities. But as a new study reveals, more often than not they are worse off than their Swiss counterparts.


To find out how well integrated foreign nationals are in Switzerland, the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) examined the differences in living conditions and equal opportunities between immigrants and Swiss citizens for the year 2019.

The FSO studied 11 main criteria and several sub-categories, and found that foreigners lag behind the Swiss across all the indicators.

However, the government said it felt migration was not the only explanatory factor.

The FSO wrote “under no circumstances can migration status be considered as the only explanatory factor for the differences found between these groups. Other variables such as age and education level may also explain these differences”, of the findings released on Tuesday.

The studied categories include social assistance and poverty, healthcare, education and training, and politics.

However, we will focus on three specific categories —housing, employment and income — as they are the best general indicators of an individual's quality of life.



“The labour market is a fundamental driver of integration. Access to a job generally means that people are able to cover their basic needs independently”, FSO said.

Here, as in the other categories, the FSO distinguished between the first and second generation of immigrants — with the latter generally considered to be more integrated than the former.

These are some of the employment-related findings:

First generation of immigrants “is significantly more represented” among unskilled workers, while those from the second or subsequent generations are over-represented in administrative jobs. “With regard to service and sales workers, the rates are similar for both first and second-generation immigrants and higher than in the population with no migration background”.

  • In 2019, the overall unemployment rate in Switzerland was 4 percent. Among the Swiss it was just below 3 percent, but for foreigners it reached 7 percent.
  • 19 percent of foreigners with university degrees worked in a job that was below their education level, while only 11 percent of the Swiss did so.


FSO defines "low wages" as those which, calculated on the basis of a 40-hour week, are less than two-thirds of the median gross earnings.

“Although the share of low wages varies depending on occupation, differences can also be seen when the population is broken down by migration status… The population with a migration background from the first generation shows a higher percentage of low wages”, FSO observed.

It found that 21 percent of immigrants were employed full-time in low-income jobs, versus 13 percent of Swiss citizens.

READ MORE: Salaries in Switzerland: In which sectors have wages increased the most?



"In terms of housing conditions, the population with a migration background also appears to be disadvantaged compared with the native population", FSO noted.

Immigrants are more likely to live in cities, where dwellings are generally smaller, which means there is less living surface available for each occupant.

In single-person households, immigrants have, on average, 70 square metres of living space at their disposal, while the Swiss have 84.

When two or more occupants are in the same apartment, foreigners live in more cramped conditions than the Swiss: 32 square metres per person versus 45.

As far as rent is concerned, “households comprised uniquely of persons with a migration background pay higher rent per square metre than those without a migration background”, according to FSO.  

Across all the categories, immigrants fare less well than than the Swiss, the study found.

"Persons with a migration background have greater difficulty in making ends meet than those without a migration background  — 17 percent compared with 7 percent".

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How applying for social benefits could see your Swiss work permit cancelled


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markjeff 2021/07/27 18:31
"As far as rent is concerned, “households comprised uniquely of persons with a migration background pay higher rent per square metre than those without a migration background”, according to FSO." I suspect a lot of that is because many Swiss have been living in the same accommodation for many years, or either live with or inherited their home from parents or had their rent fixed years ago at a rate far below current market prices. New arrivals will be paying current prices which are often significantly higher.

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