The number people moving into Switzerland rose again last year, taking the foreign population further above two million.
Figures released by the Federal Statistical Office on Fridayexternal link showed net immigration of European Union (EU)/European Free Trade Association (EFTA) citizens rose by nearly 31,000 in 2018, slightly more than in 2017.
Overall immigration – which is managed by quotas for foreigners from third countries (including, for example, the United States) and temporary limits on some newer members of the EU – increased 2.9% to nearly 55,000 people.
This means that almost 2.1 million foreigners – more than two-thirds of them from the EU and EFTA countries – lived in Switzerland at the end of 2018 (of these, some 400,000 were born in Switzerland). The total population is 8.4 million.
Italians make up the biggest group of foreigners, followed by Germans and Portuguese.
The statistics come at a time when the country’s free movement of people policy is being challenged.
Non-EU Switzerland allows free movement of people from EU and EFTA members Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway in return for enhanced access to the EU’s single market.
But the conservative right Swiss People’s Party and anti-EU AUNS group are trying to force a referendum on ending the free-movement accord with the EU, arguing there are too many foreigners. No date for a vote has been set.
The Swiss government opposes the referendum, saying free movement is an essential part of ties with the EU, which is Switzerland’s biggest trading partner.
The EU and Switzerland are currently also locked in negotiations on a framework agreement for bilateral relations which includes the free movement of people.