Eight revealing statistics about Switzerland’s foreign residents

Eight revealing statistics about Switzerland’s foreign residents
A lot of foreigners live in Lausanne and surrounding areas. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP
Foreign nationals are as much part of Switzerland’s landscape as cheese and chocolate. Here are some interesting facts about these individuals — who they are, where they live, and what they do.

Switzerland has one of the highest concentration of foreigners who permanently reside in the country  — roughly 25 percent of the total population.

This is one of the highest proportions in Europe, exceeded only by Luxembourg (47 percent) and — surprise! — Switzerland’s little neighbour Liechtenstein (67 percent), according to the migration study by the National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR).

This is what we know about these residents.

A specific definition

Anyone residing in Switzerland but who does not have Swiss nationality is defined as a foreign national. This includes not just immigrants, but also people who were born in Switzerland of foreign national parents because, unlike many other counties, being born in Switzerland doesn’t automatically mean the person is Swiss.

Until and unless they become naturalised, these individuals are considered to be foreign, even though they grew up in Switzerland and are fully integrated linguistically and culturally.

Origin: predominantly the EU

Out of 2.2 million foreign citizens who lived in Switzerland in 2020, more than half — 1.4 million — came from the European Union, predominantly from neighbouring nations.

As this chart from the Federal Statistical Office (OFS) shows, Italians and Germans constitute the majority of foreign residents in the country, followed by Portuguese and French.

There are also more than 40,000 people from the UK living in Switzerland, but they are no longer counted as EU citizens, falling under “other European” category in the chart.

Please note that these figures pertain only to permanent residents and don’t include cross-border workers, who come primarily from France Italy, and Germany.

Work or education

Why do foreign nationals come to Switzerland? NCCR research shows that 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.

“In more detailed terms, the proportion of immigrants coming to Switzerland for professional (or educational) reasons reaches 72 percent for nationals from Germany, 71 percent for Italians, and 55 percent for Eastern European nationals. However, this proportion is no more than 21 percent for people from Balkan countries who mainly migrate to Switzerland for family reasons”, NCCR said.

Residence: mostly in or near cities

A study from 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 Lausanne area and nearby towns are home to several big international companies where many expats work — Philip Morris International, Nestlé, Medtronic, and Federal Polytechnic Institute (EPFL), among them.

That’s where most European and North American nationals are located, again, due to job opportunities.

The distribution of different nationalities across Switzerland also 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 are mainly in French-speaking cantons and the Turks in the German-speaking regions.

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

READ MORE: IN NUMBERS: Where do Switzerland’s dual nationals live?

Mostly B and C permits

Another OFS study indicates that majority of foreign residents in Switzerland have either the permanent settlement permit C (47.5 percent) or residence permit B or L that is valid for more than 12 months (27.6 percent).

The smallest percentage (2.1) are permits that are valid for up to a year.

About 20.7 percent are G permits granted to cross-border commuters.

‘Elementary occupations’

An NCCR study showed that most foreigners in Switzerland (63 percent) are employed in the so-called “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.

Interestingly, the majority of foreign employees in the blue-collar categories come from outside the EU, while the top-tier positions are taken primarily by EU nationals and Swiss residents.


Technically speaking, once a foreign national becomes Swiss, he or she is no longer regarded as a foreigner.

In Switzerland, the naturalisation rate of foreign nationals who hold a residence permit is 2 percent, according to OFS.

The rate is twice as high for people born in Switzerland than for those born abroad.

In 2019, the last year for which statistics are available, just over 41,000 foreigners received their Swiss passports.

Overall, the naturalisation rate among immigrants has been steady in the past decade, OFS said.

READ MORE: IN NUMBERS: How many people become Swiss each year – and where do they come from?

In regards to dual citizenship, 19 percent of permanent residents aged 15 or over have dual nationality — nearly a million people out of Switzerland’s population of 8.6 million.

Accepted by the Swiss

While the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) has often spoken against immigration, most residents of Switzerland don’t share this view, according to OFS.

Its study, which aimed at gauging attitudes of the Swiss towards foreigners living in their midst, showed that majority of respondents (70 percent) believe foreigners are essential for Switzerland’s economy and that they do the work that Swiss don’t want to do.

Seventy-percent also think foreigners should not have to leave the country when jobs in Switzerland are scarce.

Additionally, 75 percent disagree with the claim of right-wing groups that foreigners are responsible for any increase in the unemployment rate, and more than half (57 percent) reject the notion — also widespread in the rightwing circles — that foreigners abuse social benefits.

Clear majority of respondents (77 percent) don’t believe foreigners create unsafe environment in the streets and 76 percent reject the notion that the presence of foreign children in schools causes decline in the level of education.

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