Switzerland experienced a net gain of more than 38,000 foreigners who became permanent residents in the first half of the year, a trend that helps explains how nearly a quarter of the population has a foreign passport.
The country’s population of 8.2 million included nearly two million foreigners as of the end of June, the justice ministry’s migration secretariat reported on Thursday. The exact total of 1,974,907 included a net gain of 38,662 foreigners.
Nations that contributed most to the foreign influx were Italy, 15.8%; Germany, 15.2%; Portugal, 13.5%; France, 6.1%; and Kosovo, 5.5%.
Immigration is a touchy subject in Switzerland, where a narrowly approved vote in February 2014 for more restrictions dealt a blow to the government after it warned that the populist measure could hurt the economy and weaken relations with the European Union.
Since then the government has been forced to renegotiate EU treaties on the free movement of workers. Some have pushed for use of a safeguard clause to cap immigration for a limited period of time.
Some 68% of foreigners living permanently in Switzerland are from the European Union and free-trade affiliated nations of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, about the same as a year ago.
Between January and June, about 76,000 citizens from those European nations came to Switzerland to work, some using short-term residence permits.
A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) this month found immigrants moving to Switzerland integrate easily, especially into the job market, though poverty levels and training possibilities are problematic.
Around 76% of immigrants to Switzerland had a job, compared with the European average of 62%, the study said. Immigrants in Switzerland often work in the field they originally trained, it said, unlike in most OECD countries where almost a third of immigrant workers are overqualified.