Politics For Members

What would happen to Switzerland if immigration was restricted?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
What would happen to Switzerland if immigration was restricted?
Should EU workers continue to come to Switzerland? Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash

The right-wingers, who won most seats in the Swiss parliament in the October 22nd election, will now step up their campaign to limit foreign nationals from coming to Switzerland. What effect would this have on the country’s labour market and economy?


The Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which strengthened its position as the dominant faction in the parliament, has vowed to continue its long-standing efforts to restrict the number of foreign workers entering Switzerland.

The party has long argued that immigration should be massively curbed because foreigners take jobs away from the Swiss, commit crimes, and abuse the country’s social welfare system.

Currently, the party is collecting signatures to launch yet national vote (in addition to several others it has spearheaded in recent years) to force the Federal Council to nullify the Free Movement of Persons Agreement with the European Union that allows EU residents an almost unlimited access to Switzerland’s labour market.

With their ‘No to 10-million Switzerland’ campaign — a reference to the forecasts predicting the country’s population will soon reach the 10-million mark due to immigration — the SVP is trying to convince voters that foreign residents “are harmful for our country,” according to its website. 

Immigrants, the party says, "cause housing shortages, increase in rents, traffic jams, a drop in educational levels and an explosion of health costs".

READ ALSO: What does Swiss People's Party election win mean for foreign nationals in Switzerland?

But are these claims true?
It is a fact that as the population grows, the current infrastructure can be stretched to the limit, especially in a small country like Switzerland, where resources such as building land, are limited.

However, while the influx of foreigners is a major factor in the population explosion, it is not the only one.

A strain on resources that the SVP never mentions is a higher life expectancy, which means that people are living longer than before

In fact, Switzerland has one of the highest life expectancies in the world — 84.3 years on average, up from 82.8 a decade ago.

So while there are clearly disadvantages to more people settling in Switzerland, the ‘big picture’ tells a different story.


Labour shortages

The SVP focuses on the negative aspects of immigration, ignoring the positive ones.

The most important among them is that in order to maintain its prosperous economy, Switzerland can’t depend only on the local workforce, as the country suffers from a worsening shortage of skilled professionals in many sectors.

READ ALSO: Why is Switzerland's chronic labour shortage worsening? 

According to research from the University of Basel, "highly qualified immigrants can help address this imbalance in the labour market".

And experts deny SVP’s claims that foreigners take jobs away from the Swiss. That’s because employers can hire foreigners only if no suitable Swiss candidate is found for a position.

In fact, being able to hire foreign professionals for the workforce benefits the Swiss economy in the long term, University of Basel’s research shows.

“This relieves the pressure on companies, enabling them to continue operating and, in many cases, create new jobs – a good thing for the economy as a whole," the research says. 


Clearly, then, the SVP’s efforts to drastically curb immigration, would not — despite their claims to the contrary — be in Switzerland’s best interest.

“Over the past 20 years, immigration from the EU has been essential to meet labour demand," according to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), which added that the workforce from the European Union has also "compensated for a replacement need linked to demographics".

This means that as more people retire and no new candidates for vacant jobs can be found in Switzerland, foreign workers are filling this gap.

Therefore, if immigration were to be severely restricted, as the SVP suggests, Switzerland would not be able to resolve its labour shortages with just the available workforce.

READ ALSO: How EU immigrant workers have become 'essential' for Switzerland


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