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One in five workers is foreign

The proportion of foreign workers is particularly high in the construction sector

More than 20 per cent of the workforce in Switzerland is foreign, and the number is rising, according to new statistics.

A separate study on Tuesday showed that half of Swiss firms have problems finding enough qualified staff.

By the middle of last year, some 829,000 foreigners were working in Switzerland, an increase of 12,000 or 1.5 per cent over a year earlier.

The figures, for the second quarter of last year, show that foreign workers are gradually rising as a percentage of the workforce. That is not the case with the Swiss; the number of citizens holding down a job remained unchanged at 3.97 million.

The figures do not include the 178,000 cross-border workers, who reside in neighbouring countries and commute into Switzerland daily. Also excluded are the 56,000 on short-term (seasonal) permits, who work largely in the tourism sector, and 10,000 asylum seekers.


Most foreign workers are nationals of the European Union or the Efta states (Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland). The Federal Statistical Office said Germans and Portuguese accounted for the largest increase in the year to July.

But it is Italians who make up the largest proportion, accounting for 20 per cent of all foreign workers. They are closely followed by people from the Balkans (19.5 per cent), with Portuguese (11.6 per cent) and Germans (11.3 per cent) next in line.

About half of northern and western Europeans are employed in professions requiring higher education, while southern Europeans fill the lion share’s of jobs in the construction industry.

Unemployment is more of a problem among foreigners than the Swiss. Some 8.9 per cent are without a job, compared with just 3.2 per cent of Swiss nationals.

In total, foreigners account for nearly 44 per cent of Switzerland’s unemployed.

Skills shortage

Despite attracting more foreigners, a survey by the recruitment agency, Manpower, showed that half of Swiss firms have vacancies which they cannot fill. The agency said the problem is likely to get worse in the coming year.

Worst affected is the building trade, which reported a dearth of fitters and turners, welders and builders.

Also struggling to fill places are the catering industry and the information technology sector, while salespeople remain in short supply.

Releasing the results at a news conference in Zurich, Manpower said Switzerland was having more trouble than many other countries in finding qualified workers, based on its survey of 751 firms.

Employers in Germany had more trouble than Swiss firms, but they in turn were faced with bigger problems than were those in France and Italy.

Manpower attributed the skills shortage in Switzerland to a falling birthrate, and a culture which now values academic qualifications more highly than apprenticeships.

Manpower said countries were likely to have to consider admitting more foreigners and to keep older people in work. It added that workers needed to accept life-long learning as a reality.

swissinfo with agencies

Population: 7.5 million
Number of Swiss in employment in 2005: 3.97 million
Number of foreigners in employment: 829,000
Largest group: Italians numbering 167,000
Unemployment among Swiss: 3.2%
Unemployment among foreigners: 8.9%
EU unemployment in 2005: 8.4%

The Swiss population traditionally has a high percentage of foreigners. According to the Federal Statistics Office it reached 20.6% in 2004.

This is partly explained by the healthy state of the Swiss labour market.

People’s initiatives have repeatedly sought to lower the percentage of foreigners in Switzerland. These have always been rejected, most recently in 2000.

But Switzerland is not just a land of immigration. In 2005, 634,216 Swiss were living abroad.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR