At a glanceData on the population of Switzerland
Official languages: German, French, Italian, Rhaeto-Romance
Area: 41,285 km²
Permanent resident population (end of 2019): 8,606,033
Population density (2019): 215.2 inhabitants per km²
Population growth (2019): 0,7% per year
Permanent foreign resident population (1st January 2019): 2,148,275
Immigration (2019): 169,600
Emigration (2019): 126,200
Economically active population (end of 2019): 5,332,000
Employed foreign nationals (2019): 1,615,000
Unemployment rate (2019): 4,4%
Religion (2019): Catholic and Protestant (58%), Evangelic and other Christian communities (7.1%), Islamic communities (5.3%), undenominational (28%)
Federal Statistical Office. (2021) Languages. Externer Link: https://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/en/home/statistics/population/languages-religions/languages.html (accessed: 7.04.21).
Federal Statistical Office. (2020). Territory and environment. Externer Link: https://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/en/home/statistics/territory-environment.html (accessed: 7.04.21).
Bundesamt für Statistik. (2019). Bevölkerungsdichte (Gesamtfläche). Externer Link: https://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/de/home/statistiken/kataloge-datenbanken/karten.assetdetail.13887630.html (accessed: 7.04.21).
Federal Statistical Office. (2020). Population size and change in Switzerland in 2019: definitive figures. Externer Link: https://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/en/home/statistics/population.gnpdetail.2020-0182.html (accessed: 7.04.21).
Federal Statistical Office. (2020). Demographic balance of the foreign permanent resident population, 1951-2019. Externer Link: https://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/en/home/statistics/population/effectif-change/population.assetdetail.13707327.html (accessed: 7.04.21).
Federal Statistical Office. (2019). Migration and integration. Externer Link: https://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/en/home/statistics/population/migration-integration.html (accessed: 7.04.21).
Federal Statistical Office. (2020). Dynamics of the economically active population: arrivals, departures, migrations. Externer Link: https://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/en/home/statistics/work-income/employment-working-hours/economically-active-persons/arrivals-departures-economically-active-population.html (accessed: 7.04.21).
Federal Statistical Office. (2019). Work and Income. Externer Link: https://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/en/home/statistics/work-income.html (accessed: 7.04.21).
Bundesamt für Statistik. (2019). Religion und Spiritualität in der Schweiz im Wandel. Externer Link: https://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/fr/home/statistiques/population/langues-religions.assetdetail.14856799.html (accessed: 2.09.21).
In 2019, almost 38 per cent
Recently, net migration has decreased. In 2018, it reached its lowest level since 2006.
Brief history of emigration from and immigration to Switzerland
Until the 19th century, Switzerland was a country of emigration. Thereafter, it gradually became a country of immigration. Industrialization spurred immigration especially in the second half of the 19th century. In 1888, for the first time the Swiss census displayed positive net migration in Switzerland.
Swiss migration policy
After the Second World War, labour shortages led to the establishment of a bilateral recruitment agreement with Italy in 1948. It marked the beginning of massive immigration flows. Henceforth, Swiss migration policy aimed at recruiting foreign labour due to labour shortages against the backdrop of a booming economy, while at the same time preventing their permanent settlement in Switzerland.
In the 1990s, Switzerland sought closer ties with the EU and started to adopt measures to facilitate immigration from EU member states. In order to balance out concerns of Überfremdung, immigration from other countries was severely limited. In 1991, the so-called "Three-Circle Model" was introduced. It regulated the admission of labour migrants arriving in Switzerland based on their country of origin and their alleged "cultural proximity". "Culturally close" foreigners were described as more likely to assimilate into Swiss culture than "culturally distant" foreigners, who were regarded to have little probability to assimilate. Foreigners were thus divided into three different groups: While labour migrants from EU and EFTA states ("first circle") were given priority, the number of labour migrants from countries belonging to the "second circle" (e.g. USA, Canada, Middle and Eastern European states) was limited. Immigration from "all other states" ("third circle") was restricted to the highly skilled. In 1998, the "Three-Circle Model" was abandoned and replaced by a dual admission system. It continued to privilege immigration from EU and EFTA states while restricting immigration from third countries. The "Federal Act on Foreign Nationals", in force since 2008, maintained this dual admission model. Until today, labour migration from third countries remains restricted to highly skilled workers.
In 2000, the treaty package "Bilateral Agreements I" was accepted by Swiss voters.
In 2014, the Swiss people voted by a narrow majority (50,3 per cent) in favour of the initiative "against mass immigration", which had been initiated by the national-conservative to right-wing populist Swiss People’s Party (SPP).
In January 2019, a revision of the Foreigners Act – now renamed Foreigners and Integration Act – entered into force.
Swiss asylum law – reforms and discourses
Switzerland’s first asylum law entered into force in 1981. Ever since, numerous amendments have been made to the asylum law
The asylum issue is highly politicized and there is a tendency towards a strong polarization of political parties with a view to asylum policy.
Since the 1980s asylum seekers have often been viewed with suspicion, when a discourse on the alleged "abuse of the asylum system" and on "bogus refugees" emerged, that keeps on surfacing every now and then.
In order to integrate refugees more quickly into the labour market and society, the federal government and the cantons have agreed on a joint integration agenda in 2019. It defined binding integration goals and processes. For example, refugees should learn one of the four national languages as quickly as possible, familiarize themselves with the customs of life in Switzerland and receive job-related support. The aim is for the state to save costs in the long term if refugees can quickly integrate into society and the labour market and support themselves instead of relying on social assistance.
Migration will remain a contentious issue in Switzerland in the future as well. Almost 40 per cent of Switzerland’s permanent resident population have a migration background, a quarter of the permanent resident population are foreign citizens although many of them have been living in Switzerland for decades or were even born and raised here. This is partly due to the fact that Switzerland’s citizenship laws are based on the principle of the "right of blood" (jus sanguinis) by which descent of at least one Swiss parent conditions the acquisition of Swiss citizenship, and of restrictive naturalisation practices.