Recent immigration from the European Union has benefited Swiss cities and Switzerland as a whole, according to a study by the Swiss Cities Association, which is urging officials not to jeopardise the bilateral accords with the EU.
Above all Switzerland had profited economically, the association said in a statement on Thursday. Thanks to immigration, between 2002 and 2008 the economy grew by 3.2% more than it would have done without the free movement of people.
Immigration corresponds to a clear economic need according to the study’s authors, who added that skill levels and productivity had increased as a result of foreign specialists. This had stabilised the economy and made it more resistant to crises.
Research in Switzerland had become a lot more international, thus strengthening its ability to be innovative, they said.
“There is no evidence that the indigenous workforce has been replaced. Nor has there been a general pressure on wages. However, immigration has had a wage-moderating effect on highly skilled workers.”
Switzerland is not a member of the European Union but has signed a series of bilateral agreements with the 28-state bloc. However, on February 9, 2014, 50.3% of Swiss voters backed an initiative to limit the number of EU citizens allowed into Switzerland, souring relations with the EU, which considers this incompatible with the free movement accord.
The study, carried out for the Swiss Cities Association by researchers INFRAS, concluded that EU immigrants as a whole are well-integrated in Switzerland.
“These people are young, well-educated and often prepared to get involved in clubs and organisations. That said, the housing market in many regions has become strained because of immigration,” the authors wrote.
Cities have the right tools to cope with these challenges, according to Zurich mayor Corine Mauch, who added that a rigid implementation of the 2014 immigration initiative – which had been put forward by the conservative right Swiss People’s Party – could cause great damage.
The Swiss Cities Association is therefore calling for the initiative to be implemented in such a way that the free movement of people is not put at risk.
Around a quarter of Switzerland’s 8.3 million residents do not have a Swiss passport (although some 400,000 of them were born in Switzerland). According to the Federal Statistical Office, last year Switzerland was home to 1.3 million citizens from EU/EFTA countries, with the largest communities coming from Italy, Germany and Portugal.
swissinfo.ch and agencies