Migration: integration of migrants in Switzerland successful, but stronger focus on vulnerable groups needed


14/02/2012 - Labour market integration of immigrants in Switzerland is generally successful: three quarters of immigrants in Switzerland are in employment – more than in any other OECD country. However, some groups are disadvantaged and at risk of being left behind. This is notably the case of low-educated immigrant women with young children and of recent humanitarian migrants. An OECD Review on the Labour Market Integration of Immigrants and their Children in Switzerland also reveals that there is not enough awareness of discrimination against immigrants among employers and the general public. The study is presented today in Berne at a joint press conference by the OECD, the Federal Office for Migration and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs.

27% of the working-age population in Switzerland are foreign-born. This is a large share compared with other OECD countries. The employment rate of immigrants is only five percentage points below that of the native-born. This is mainly due to good labour market conditions and a specific mix of origin countries: most migrants come from other high-income OECD countries.


 Employment-population ratio of the 15-64 years old in selected OECD countries, 2010

Source: Labour Force Surveys.


Many migrants from non-OECD countries are over-qualified for their job. An expansion of mentorship and bridging programmes for those who do not have a Swiss degree could improve access to higher-skilled jobs. Up to now, few immigrants have had their foreign qualification formally recognised in Switzerland. A more transparent recognition process and improved information about the benefits of obtaining such recognition would potentially increase the number of migrants obtaining certification and finding a more suitable job afterwards.


Percentage of highly-educated persons working in a high-skilled job in Switzerland,

by origin of the diploma, 2008

Source: Swiss Labour Force Survey, Swiss Federal Statistical Office.


Immigrant women from lower-income countries with young children barely benefit from targeted integration measures and do not have sufficient access to the full range of active labour market policy tools. There are signs that the labour market participation of immigrant women with young children has declined in recent years. Likewise, recent humanitarian migrants have difficulties finding work – and more so than previous groups of humanitarian migrants. In contrast to other OECD countries, Switzerland did not yet have a standardised integration programme for newly arrived humanitarian migrants, although a number of recent initiatives go in the right direction. Given the positive experience of other countries with programmes targeted at labour market integration, these should be introduced more broadly.

Access to Swiss nationality is another means that could provide an impetus for the integration of immigrants. Evidence from other OECD countries suggests that naturalisation often leads to better integration. But access to nationality is much more difficult than in other OECD countries: immigrants generally need to have lived in Switzerland for a minimum of 12 years before they can apply - the longest period required by any OECD country. In addition, there are extra requirements at the federal, cantonal and municipal levels. The planned reform of citizenship legislation would tackle some of the most important shortcomings of Swiss nationality law and enhance immigrants’ mobility within Switzerland.

Immigrant children of low-educated parents tend to have low educational outcomes themselves; a few years after the end of obligatory schooling, they often find themselves on the margins of the labour market. One of the reasons: a lack of early childhood education. For integration, starting at the age of three is particularly critical. Following the example of the Nordic countries, targeted education measures at this age, including language stimulation, should therefore be an urgent priority for policy.

Another area in which Switzerland lags behind is anti-discrimination policy. Research suggests that the offspring of immigrants with an otherwise equivalent CV need to submit up to five times the number of applications filed by natives in order to get invited to a job interview. This holds in particular for offspring of immigrants from the former Yugoslavia. The institutional framework to tackle discrimination urgently needs strengthening. In addition, awareness of the issue of discrimination should be raised amongst employers and the general public.

The federalist character is clearly visible in the Swiss integration policy with integration measures which vary widely on a cantonal and local level. Although considerable improvements have been made over the past decade, stronger policy co-ordination within the country could boost the efficiency of integration efforts.

For more information, journalists should contact Thomas Liebig of the OECD’s International Migration Division, Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs (Tel. +33 1 45 24 90 68).


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