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

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.

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

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

Member comments

  1. “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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For members


Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Switzerland?

Although you hope to never need one, sometimes you might have to seek legal advice in Switzerland. This is how to find it.

Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Switzerland?

When you move to a new country, including Switzerland, you have to look for a whole new network of professionals.

You may or may not have immediate need for the proverbial butcher, baker, and the candlestick maker, but sooner or later you will have to find other professionals, with the most essential one being a doctor.

READ MORE: What you should know about finding a doctor in Switzerland

Chances are you will also need, at one time or another, a legal counsel. That should in principle not be a problem as Switzerland has an abundance of lawyers — 7,317 currently practicing in the country, according to European data.

The question of how to find one that best suits your needs depends on many factors — for instance, what kind of legal advice you are seeking (estate planning, inheritance, divorce, etc), whether you speak the language of your region or need an English-speaking attorney,  and whether you can pay (the often exorbitant) fees, or need free counselling instead.

Speaking of fees, the hourly rates vary widely from one lawyer or legal practice to another, with some charging as little as 100 francs or as much as 1,000.

Much depends on the lawyer’s location — with the ones practicing in large cities like Zurich and Geneva being more expensive than their counterparts in small towns or rural regions  — the area of specialisation and general reputation — the more prominent the attorney is with a roster of famous or well-heeled clients, the higher fees they will typically charge.

An important thing to know is that, depending on the advice you are seeking, you may not need a lawyer at all, but rather a public notary; in Switzerland, these professionals perform many tasks that only attorneys can do in other countries, such as drawing contracts and establishing other legal documents.

Here are some tips on how to find a lawyer or a notary that best fits your needs:

Word of mouth

As with any other services, personal recommendations from people you know and trust are best.

This will spare you the effort of “investigating” the person, such as researching their credentials and feedback from previous clients — the due diligence process that everyone should undertake before hiring any professional.

Professional associations

If you don’t know anyone who can recommend an attorney, do your own research.

Professional organisations such as the Swiss Bar Association (SBA) and the Swiss Federation of Notaries are good resources, as they both allow you to look for professionals in or near your place of residence.

English-speaking attorneys

Many Swiss lawyers and notaries, especially those practicing in large urban centres where many foreign residents live, speak English.

But if you want to make sure yours does, the UK government put together a list of English speaking attorneys in Switzerland, which should help you with your search.

‘Free’ legal advice

In principle, all legal assistance comes at a cost, except for exceptional cases, which are defined by each canton.

SBA has a canton-by-canton list, where the designation “GRATIS JUDICATURE” stands for “free legal advice”.

However, there is also such a thing in Switzerland as “legal protection insurance” (Rechtsschutzversicherungen in German, protection juridique in French, and protezione giuridica in Italian).

It covers attorney and other associated fees if you undertake court action against someone, are sued, or simply need legal advice.

There are two different types of legal protection insurance — one specifically for traffic accidents and the other for all other matters. Sometimes they are combined.

Typically, this insurance covers costs of legal representation associated with contract disputes, employment, loans and debts, healthcare, housing, retail purchases, and travel.

The annual cost of this insurance, which you can purchase from practically every carrier in Switzerland, is minimal, especially if you consider how much you’d have to spend if you hired an attorney yourself.

Another benefit of these policies is that a lawyer will be assigned to you by the insurance company so you won’t have the headache of looking for one on your own.

This article provides more information about this insurance:

EXPLAINED: Why you need ‘legal protection insurance’ in Switzerland