More job seekers abroad claim Swiss unemployment benefits

In 2018, some 28% of Swiss unemployment benefits exported abroad were destined for Portugal. Keystone

The number of people drawing on Swiss unemployment benefits while searching for a job in the European Union has risen sharply in the last five years. Foreigners returning home make up the largest share, according to government data analysed by SonntagsBlick.

This content was published on February 24, 2019 - 12:50

Anyone losing their job in Switzerland is entitled to unemployment benefits under certain conditions. This is typically 70-80% of your salary up to a certain limit depending on the canton. More foreign job seekers are taking advantage of the opportunity. Five years ago, there were 1,530 applications to export unemployment benefits, and in 2018 there were 3,540, according to new figures from the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).

The newspaper SonntagsBlick reports that very few in Switzerland are aware of a provision in the law that both foreigners and Swiss job seekers are permitted to export those benefits to an EU country for up to three months. By registering with an employment center in another country and meeting other criteria, the unemployed can accept Swiss unemployment benefits while searching for a job outside Switzerland.

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The majority of those using the export option are foreigners returning to their home country. "If finding a job in the Swiss job market becomes difficult for them, some jobseekers figure they may have better chances in their home country," says SECO spokesman Fabian Maienfisch.

In 2018, most Swiss unemployment benefits exported abroad were to employment offices in Portugal. Some 28% (1,003 people) received approval to export benefits to Portugal whereas only 16% (575 people) exported benefits to Germany. This is a disproportionate amount given that in 2018 more Germans left Switzerland than Portuguese (13,980 compared to 10,254).

Seeking explanations

There are a few possible reasons for the rise. One is that job prospects outside Switzerland have improved in the last few years according to Lucie Hribal, a spokesperson for the department for economy and employment (AWA).

There was also a change in the law a few years ago that removed the condition that to export benefits one had to look for a job in Switzerland first. Hribal also points to the fact that “the option to export benefits abroad is becoming more well-known among job seekers”.

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