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ANALYSIS: Will immigration to Switzerland continue to grow or could it slow?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
ANALYSIS: Will immigration to Switzerland continue to grow or could it slow?
Will immigration continue to rise in Switzerland? Photo: Connel_Design/ GettyImages

In the past few years, an increasing number of foreigners have come to Switzerland, swelling the ranks of its population to 9 million people. Will this trend continue in the future?


From a country of just 8 million people a decade ago, Switzerland's population grew to over 9 million residents in 2023 — primarily due to more foreign nationals coming in.

“Switzerland has been in a situation of uninterrupted demographic growth for several decades, and this is explained in particular by the arrival of young migrants, who also contribute to the Swiss birth rate," Philippe Wanner, professor at the Institute of Demography and Social Economics at the University of Geneva told The Local.

Just in the period between July 2022 and July 2023, for instance, more than 90,000 foreigners settled in Switzerland.

Now forecasts call for the population to swell to 10 million within the next decade — which has prompted the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) to collect enough signatures to launch a national vote in the near future to stop more foreigners from coming into the country.

The SVP argues that Switzerland’s infrastructure — including housing, healthcare system, and public transportation — would not be able to withstand so many more residents.

READ ALSO : Switzerland faces new anti-immigration vote 

This is based on the assumption that as many — or even more — foreigners will continue to move to Switzerland in future, attracted by salaries that are quite a bit higher than the wages they would earn for the same kind of work in their home countries.

But is there a credible scenario under which immigration will slow down?

According to Swiss demographer Hendrik Budliger, high immigration numbers in recent years “don’t necessarily mean the trend will continue.”

Certain things would have to happen at the political and economic level, however — both in Switzerland and abroad — for this scenario to become reality.

These are the main ones:

Fewer people leaving their home countries

One factor, according to Budliger, would be that other countries in Europe that are grappling with labour shortages as Switzerland is “will try to retain or bring back their workforce.”

In Italy and Portugal, for instance, “significant tax deductions are granted” to keep their workers from leaving.

“If more countries create such [financial] incentives to retain employees, Switzerland will become less attractive,” he pointed out.

Economist Manuel Buchmann agreed that  “EU nations themselves need this skilled workforce and are willing to do a lot to ensure that their nationals don’t leave the country."


Fewer job vacancies in Switzerland

The country is suffering from an acute shortage of qualified workers — the main reason why many employers are hiring workforce from the EU and EFTA (Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein) nations.

If, however, Switzerland’s low unemployment rate should increase, or if suitable candidates can be found within the country, then companies will not recruit employees from abroad.

This is especially true as the Swiss law stipulates that a job can be offered to a foreign national only if no qualified candidates can be found in Switzerland.


Anti-immigration initiatives are accepted

In 2020, 61.7 percent of voters turned down SVP’s proposal to curb immigration from the EU.

This meant that Swiss companies could continue to recruit from those countries.

However, if voters decide to go the opposite way — for instance, by accepting the SVP’s latest anti-immigration proposal — then the government would have to implement measures to drastically curb the number of foreigners coming into the country.

READ ALSO: Why Switzerland can't rely on foreign workers to fill its labour shortages


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