Defining the 25% foreign population in Switzerland


Defining the 25% foreign population in Switzerland

By Duc-Quang Nguyen

For the first time, Switzerland has 2 million foreigners living in its midst. As of last year, these non-Swiss – often the subject of political debate – accounted for nearly a quarter of the nation’s 8.3 million population. But just who exactly are they? These graphics offer an explanation.

Switzerland has one of the highest proportions of foreigners in its midst among all nations: 24.6% in 2015. Only a few special cases, such as oil-producing nations that employ many foreigners, or city-states like Luxembourg, have even higher percentages than Switzerland.

The graph below shows the nationalities of all foreigners living in Switzerland. It shows that more than 80% of the foreigners living in Switzerland are from European countries. Almost half of them come just from France, Germany, Italy, Portugal.

In one year, the proportion of foreigners increased by 0.3 percentage points (24.3% of foreigners in 2014). With 19 entries per 1000 inhabitants on average in 2014, Switzerland is leading the European immigration countries, far ahead of Germany (11), UK (9.8), Spain (6.6) and France (5.1).

The high rate of immigration in Switzerland is certainly not new. Immigration is a recurring theme of the last fifty years, one on which Switzerland has voted repeatedly in the polls. In February 2014, voters narrowly approved a popular initiative for stricter immigration controls.

The proportion of foreigners and their nationality of origin vary considerably in different regions of Switzerland, as illustrated by the maps below. French-speaking Switzerland, in the west, home to the largest proportion of foreigners, contrasts strongly with the situation in central Switzerland. Citizens of Germany, France and Italy are, not surprisingly, more likely to live in regions where their native language is spoken.

It should also be noted that Swiss citizenship is not automatically acquired by all. Even many foreigners born in Switzerland retain only their original nationality. According to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office, almost 396’000 foreign nationals were born in Switzerland in 2015, accounting for about a fifth of the “foreign” population. Among foreigners living in Switzerland who were born elsewhere, some 44% have lived in Switzerland, as a permanent resident, for 10 years or more.

With the Switzerland hosting so many foreigners, do you think it offers a successful model of integration? Please let us know your opinion.

Migration series

Voting by the Swiss people to limit foreigners; Brexit; tensions within the EU to cope with the influx of asylum seekers – immigration is a key concern across the continent and beyond.

In Switzerland, as in the UK, the government is under pressure to limit the influx of immigrants at the risk of jeopardizing access to the European market. Through graphics, presents a series on immigration to illustrate these pressures.

From global migration flows to the evolving Swiss population, these weekly graphics key figures to help better inform people.

2 replies

  1. My view: The main point, when speaking about the foreign population of any country, is and should be what they contribute. The foreigners in Switzerland definitely pay more tax than they cost (in social assistance). No hotels would function without them. Hospitals could close down, even the trams in Zurich would only partially run, so it seems. Therefore let’s stop complaining and appreciating. (I myself have worked and lived in 15 countries, and, yes, contributed to their economies too. I liked to live and work there and consequently cannot refuse others the same right if they come here. I am basically an Accountant. Therefore, yes, they must ‘pay their keep’ and if they do so: my gratitude).

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