Over 700,000 Swiss live outside the country, most of them in Europe, but increasingly their move abroad is only temporary as part of their professional careers.
But even if they are only staying away for a short time, they are still interested in exercising their political rights, making the introduction of e-voting a necessity for the Swiss abroad.
The Swiss abroad statistics supplied by the foreign ministry detail exactly how many citizens live abroad and where. But these numbers provide little in the way of information as to why people have moved to another country or for how long.
“We assume that many people move abroad for professional reasons,” said Ariane Rustichelli, spokeswoman for the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA).
“For the past decade, there has been a clear trend towards people moving away for a few years and then coming back, mainly for professional reasons or for further education.”
Drawn to Asia
Asian countries have attracted higher numbers of Swiss citizens in recent years, even if the overall figures remain relatively low.
“I can imagine that people are moving to work in countries where the economy has been growing rapidly,” Rustichelli told swissinfo.ch.
“Of course, there are retired people moving to Asia, but around three quarters of the Swiss abroad are still of working age, between 18 and 65. The idea that Swiss living outside the country are mainly pensioners is wrong,” she added.
The foreign ministry agrees that more and more Swiss are heading abroad only for a short time.
“Many people emigrate for six months to a year for further education or to pursue their careers, but not with the idea of making a permanent move,” said the ministry’s delegate for the Swiss abroad, Jean-François Lichtenstern.
According to the statistics, 30,000 Swiss on average leave the country annually, while another 25,000 return home. Last year, the number of Swiss abroad increased by 8,517, up 1.23 per cent.
A more significant rise was the additional 5.5 per cent of Swiss abroad who registered to vote, taking the total to 143,288.
Because of this figure, the OSA has demanded the faster introduction of e-voting, which has been tested in a number of cantons.
“Postal voting often doesn’t work properly,” said the OSA in a statement. “The introduction of e-voting is from the OSA’s point of view… in the interest of all voters, and constitutes an essential instrument for the application of direct democracy.”
For the organisation, communes and cantons would also benefit since it would reduce their administrative workload. Counting votes would be automated and results published faster, cutting costs.
The largest Swiss abroad community lives in France, with over 180,000 people, ahead of Germany with around 79,000. At the other end of the scale, São Tomé and Principe, Kiribati and Micronesia are home to just one Swiss citizen.
Since 1977, each of the 26 cantons has allowed the Swiss abroad to vote for candidates up for election to the House of Representatives. Only 11 cantons allow votes from abroad for the Senate.
To take part in the vote, the Swiss abroad must register first. Their votes are tallied in the last commune where they lived in Switzerland or their commune of origin.
Since the introduction of the postal vote in 1992, participation by the Swiss abroad has increased significantly. At the end of last year, 143,288 Swiss abroad had registered to vote.
(Adapted from German by Scott Capper), swissinfo.ch