Productivity and long term growth

Economic survey of Switzerland 2007: The contribution of immigration to prosperity can be raised further


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The following OECD assessment and recommendations summarise chapter 5 of the Economic survey of Switzerland published on 6 November 2007.



The positive contribution of immigrants to average living standards can be improved, as can their integration

Drawn by the prospects of comfortable living standards and strong labour demand, immigrants have been attracted to Switzerland over many decades. Immigrants have again boosted labour supply in recent years, turning Switzerland into one of the countries with the highest immigration rates in the OECD. The large inflow has been absorbed well overall, and the contribution of expanding labour supply to per capita GDP growth has been supported by the rising share of skilled immigrants. Sustained inflows may persist as a result of the recent removal of remaining restrictions with regard to worker mobility to and from most EU countries. Regarding immigration from other countries, policy has become more strongly oriented towards the admission of skilled workers. Nonetheless, integrating less-qualified workers from earlier immigration waves and their offspring remains a challenge. A persistent demand for low skilled workers, for example, from countries which joined the EU recently, provides additional justification for such efforts.


Stocks of foreign population in selected OECD countries1
Per cent of total population, 2004
1. From population registers or from registers of foreigners except for Portugal (residence permits), Ireland and the United Kingdom (Labour Force Survey).
Source: OECD (2006), International migration data.


Labour-market outcomes among immigrants are less favourable than those among the native-born population, in terms of unemployment rates and wages, holding back the contribution immigrants can make to GDP growth. Some of these differences are more marked than in some other OECD countries that have experienced strong immigration flows. Employment and pay prospects of some immigrants are hampered by difficulties in foreign (especially non-EU) credentials recognition. Further efforts should be made to improve the system for recognising qualifications and experience obtained abroad. Discrimination against immigrant job applicants can lower their incentives to acquire human capital. While antidiscrimination legislation is in place, the effectiveness of its enforcement can be improved. The legal recourse available to victimised foreigners should be facilitated, possibly with the help of associations combating discrimination. Also, employers’ attention should be called to the issue of discrimination, in order to improve the integration of foreign workers in the Swiss labour market. In this regard, the public sector should set an example. Finally, the rules on the length of residency required by cantons and communes for naturalisation could be a barrier to geographic mobility and should therefore be harmonised.


Unemployment rate among non-EU/non-English speaking
immigrants and among natives in OECD countries1
Percentage, 2003
1. Solid line: unemployment among immigrants equal to unemployment among natives. Dotted line:
unemployment among immigrants twice as high as unemployment among natives.
Source: OECD (2006), “Migration in OECD Countries: Labour market impact and integration issues”, OECD Working Papers No. 562, Paris.


Underperformance of migrants’ children in education is relatively pronounced, in part reflecting the negative impact of socio-economic background on performance more generally. Hence, reforms in the schooling system should aim at lowering the impact of socioeconomic background on all children’s education outcomes. Low participation in pre-school education and childcare exacerbates this deleterious impact, as does the early streaming of children into different school tracks, which generally occurs between the ages of 10 and 12.Access by the foreign population to early childhood education and childcare services should be promoted. They should be made more widely available through better co-ordination of the provision of such services between different levels of government. The planned lowering of the compulsory entry age into education from six to four years is a welcome step. Measures along these lines would also have significant benefits for native-born children from poor backgrounds and would improve incentives to work among women (another policy priority identified in the 2007Going for Growth publication), who often choose not to work full-time because of a lack of availability of childcare facilities. Non-selective educational models in the lower secondary cycle should likewise be developed. The standardisation and transparency of educational guidance systems assigning pupils to special classes can be improved. Immigration inflows have become more diverse over the decades with regard to country of origin, with a larger share of immigrants not speaking any of the official languages. Some shortcomings in the availability and quality of language teaching have been identified. The incentives for foreigners to enrol in language courses should be sharpened and supply improved, inter alia by introducing a standard certification system.

Young persons who have left school early by nationality
Percentage of young persons aged 18 to 24 years who have no post-compulsory schooling and who are no longer attending school
Source: Federal Statistical Office, Swiss survey of the working population.

How to obtain this publication                                                                                      

The Policy Brief (pdf format) can be downloaded in English. It contains the OECD assessment and recommendations.The complete edition of the Economic survey of Switzerland 2007 is available from:

Additional information                                                                                                  


For further information please contact the Switzerland Desk at the OECD Economics Department at  The OECD Secretariat's report was prepared by Andrés Fuentes, Claude Giorno and Eduardo Camero under the supervision of Peter Jarrett. Research assistance was provided by Françoise Correia.




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