A Panorama of Swiss Society 202017.08.2020

Migration: diverse backgrounds and varying integration pathways

Migrants to Switzerland show a wide range of diversity in terms of educational background, occupational situation, age, migration status and country of origin. In addition, migrants tend to be quickly, although never fully, integrated into the labour market; households with a migration background have lower incomes and wealth. A large proportion of migrants do not stay in Switzerland. These are some of the findings from the first edition of the series A Panorama of Swiss Society, published by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) and the Universities of Neuchâtel and Fribourg.

In this publication, specialists from universities and official statistics examine selected aspects of migration, integration and participation. The publication focuses primarily, but not exclusively, on research on labour-market driven immigration from EU/EFTA countries.

Over a third of the population is connected to migration
The FSO makes a distinction between three categories of migrants and their descendants, as presented by Florence Bartosik in Chapter 1. The population with foreign citizenship comprises around 2.1 million people (25% of the whole population), the population born abroad around 2.6 million (30%), and the population aged 15 and over with a migration background around 2.7 million (38%). Integration of the population with a migration background is measured using a system of indicators developed by the FSO. One of the many findings is that the migrant population has the greatest share of tertiary level graduates.

Gap is narrowing but differences remain
To study migration pathways, longitudinal analyses are indispensable, as shown by Philippe Wanner in Chapter 2. Integration into Swiss society with regards to the labour market, language and social participation improves with length of stay. The gap in average income from employment between people with and without a migration background decreases considerably, especially in the first years following immigration (by approximately 10 to 15 percentage points). The integration effect tends to diminish, however, especially among men, after a stay of more than five years. Major differences exist depending on a person’s country of origin or certain socio-demographic characteristics.

This finding is confirmed in Chapter 3 by Sandro Favre, Reto Föllmi, and Josef Zweimu?ller. The much lower employment rate of migrants in the year of their immigration rises the longer they stay. While their labour market participation in the year of immigration is considerably lower than that of persons born in Switzerland, the gap closes over time, without, however, completely disappearing (after 5 years from 16 percentage points to 4 percentage points for men, from 37 to 13 percentage points for women). A third of migrants leave Switzerland in the first year, while half stay for longer than three years.

Lower income and wealth in households with a migration background
In Chapter 4, Laura Ravazzini, Christoph Halbmeier, and Christian Suter compare the income and wealth of households with and without a migration background in Switzerland and Germany. In both countries, households with a migration background have a lower disposable household equivalent income and less wealth. Household size is an important factor: Households with a migration background tend to be larger and share their income and wealth with more people than households with no migration background. Households with a migration background also have a lower home ownership rate. They are less likely to own their own home in Switzerland than in Germany.

Contributions to the social security system exceed the benefits withdrawn
Migrants’ contribution to the Swiss social security system varies between the different parts of the system (e.g. OASI, unemployment insurance, and social assistance). However, various studies conclude that overall they contribute more than they receive and that the taxes they pay have a positive influence on gross domestic product, as presented by Monica Budowski, Eveline Odermatt, and Sebastian Schief in Chapter 5. The international transferability of social benefits can pose a problem should migrants return to their country of origin. Social insurance agreements play an important role here. Furthermore, it is sometimes difficult for migrants to find their way around the complex social security system.

Major cantonal differences in internal migration and access to citizenship
Jonathan Zufferey addresses the subject of internal migration in Chapter 6. His research shows that every year, about 9% of Switzerland’s population move home and that an average person moves 7.5 times in their life. However, most people move home within the same commune. Moves of more than 100 kilometres concern only 2% of internal migration. Only very rarely do people move across the country’s language borders. A comparatively small number of moves are made away from cantons with large agglomerations. Young people and people with a migration background move home particularly often.

In Chapter 7, Marion Aeberli and Gianni D’Amato examine cantonal differences in access to citizenship and the factors influencing the authorities’ practice with regard to integration policy: Cantons with a more liberal political orientation are more likely to adopt a more inclusive approach. In cantons with a greater mix of people and a higher degree of urbanisation, the population is more liberal and has a more positive attitude towards cultural diversity than in other cantons. The inclusion of individual factors demonstrates that there is a relationship between a person’s attitude towards diversity and their living conditions, migration background and political orientation.