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Better labour integration demanded for migrants

The recognition of foreign diplomas and qualifications is one of Switzerland's weak points according to the OECD Keystone

Immigrants in Switzerland suffer from a lower unemployment rate than in most developed countries, but those on humanitarian permits need more support, experts say.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said in a report that recently arrived mothers with young children and some teenagers were missing out on job opportunities because of a lack of integration measures.

Overall, immigrants do well on the Swiss job market. “Eighty-four per cent of immigrant men and 68 per cent of immigrant women at working age have a job, putting Switzerland among the OECD countries with the highest rate,” said Yves Leterme, the organisation’s deputy secretary-general, in Bern on Tuesday.

The Swiss results are explained mostly by Switzerland’s low unemployment rate and by the fact that most immigrants come from neighbouring countries with high average salaries. More than a quarter of the working population was born abroad.

But the OECD points out, however, that Switzerland’s integration policies in the labour market are insufficient.

Leterme warned that for some immigrant categories the situation on the job market was deteriorating. “These people are perhaps only a minority, but measures must be taken to avoid them being left on the sidelines,” he said.

“Promoting access to jobs and employability is key for integrating immigrant families and their children in our societies and economies,” added Leterme. “Jobs and employability are also crucial for the acceptance of immigrants.”

“Targeted measures”

People benefiting from humanitarian permits – refugees and temporary admissions – also have trouble finding jobs. The OECD recommends targeted measures such as those implemented in Denmark and Norway to improve integration of recent arrivals.

Mario Gattiker, head of the Federal Migration Office, said that the cantons were developing a series of new measures, while the federal government was already providing SFr6,000 ($6,545) per person. Access to vocational training will also be improved.

The OECD recommends additional support for young mothers from low-revenue countries. According to the organisation, this group’s participation in the job market has declined, especially for recent arrivals.

The decision to cut federal funding for jobseekers could affect this group even more in the future, warns the report.

The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) has so far no specific strategy for these two groups, admitted the head of its labour division, Serge Gaillard.

Children of immigrants with little education are also facing difficulties, with many teenagers finding themselves left out after finishing their compulsory schooling.

The report suggests letting them start school at age three and that specific educational measures, such as more support for language skills, could help improve their chances later on.


Leterme pointed out that discrimination was also a problem for some of these teenagers. Children of migrant parents have five times less of a chance of being interviewed for a job than Swiss, even with an equivalent résumé.

Gattiker said that fighting discrimination was already part of Swiss legislation, but that cantonal integration programmes would include protection against discrimination in the future.

Foreign diplomas from non-OECD countries deserved better recognition, to avoid people holding down jobs for which they are overqualified. Less than half of the migrants from these nations have a position that corresponds to their qualifications, while nearly three quarters of Swiss workers are employed at an appropriate level.

Other recommendations include simplifying access to Swiss citizenship, which is being considered, and improving coordination of integration policies between cantons.

“Despite federalism, a common base is needed,” pointed out Leterme.

Gattiker said that centralising measures would not fit with Swiss reality. “But minimal norms are needed, just as are a national vision and oversight,” he added.

Comparison of selected OECD countries:


Australia       28.1%

Switzerland   27.2%

US               16.7%

Sweden        15.2%

Germany      15.1%

Britain          13.7%

France         11.9%

Norway          9.0%

Denmark        8.4%


Australia       28.4%Switzerland   28.0%

Germany      16.0%

US               15.7%

Britain          14.2%       France          12.5%

Norway           9.7%

Denmark         9.7%

Source: OECD report 2012, based on 2008/9 average

(With input from Urs Geiser)

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