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Full integration out of reach for non-European migrants

© Keystone / Christian Beutler

Switzerland, for decades a land of immigration, appears not to be a particularly good student when it comes to integration. It continues to fare poorly in international rankings for failing to offer long-term stability to non-European immigrants, a new study shows.

This content was published on December 15, 2020 - 11:00

The Alpine nation does not offer migrants a secure future, the Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) concludes. Published last week, the index compares the integration policies of 52 countries and establishes a ranking. Switzerland finishes 25th, behind France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. It gets an overall score of 50 points out of 100, seven to eight points less than the average of other western European countries.

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More than 80% of foreigners living in Switzerland come from European countries. They benefit from the agreement on free movement of people and as such are free to settle and work in Switzerland. It is for non-European residents that the situation becomes complicated.

According to the study, Switzerland offers migrants from third countries temporary integration, but not the guarantee of being able to establish themselves permanently. It is a policy similar to that of Austria and Denmark.

“These countries only go halfway in terms of giving migrants fundamental rights and equal opportunities,” write the study’s authors. “Their policies encourage the population to consider immigrants as foreigners and not as equals and full neighbours.”

According to the index, Switzerland’s integration policy has not evolved over the last decade.

“The Swiss approach has become a form of continuity,” says Gianni D’Amato, director of the Swiss Forum for the Study of Migration (SFM), which contributes to establishing the MIPEX. D’Amato says Switzerland wants to benefit from the economic advantages of migration, but long-term integration is not its objective.

“The message that the country sends to migrants is the following: you are welcome, but not too many of you and not for your entire life,” he says. “Control must be maintained to be able to limit the number of migrants.”

The study identifies two main gaps in Switzerland’s integration policy: weaknesses in protecting against discrimination and the difficulty in obtaining citizenship.

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Little protection against discrimination

Victims of discrimination have access to fewer protections and less support in Switzerland than anywhere else on the continent, the international comparison shows. It is the only European country in the index not to have a national law against discrimination or a victim’s assistance organisation.

This problem is not new. For several years, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has recommended that Swiss authorities reinforce, in civil and administrative law, the protection of victims of racial discrimination. The Swiss Competence Centre for Human Rights has made similar proposals.

Discrimination against migrants reaches into all areas of daily life.

“It manifests itself, amongst other things, in the labour market or in the search for housing,” says Didier Ruedin, a senior researcher at the SFM.

The criminal norm against discrimination, part of the Criminal Code, punishes all discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

“However, its scope is narrow,” says Ruedin. “The proof is that there are numerous discrimination cases, but they result in few judgements.”  

The elusive red passport

Switzerland’s restrictive naturalisation policy is also highlighted in the study. Although voters approved facilitating naturalisation for some 25,000 third-generation foreigners in 2017, the study notes that the Swiss passport remains more difficult to obtain than that of most other western European countries. The new Law on Nationality that came into effect in 2018 further tightened the conditions for gaining citizenship.

Yet a higher rate of naturalisation encourages better integration of foreigners, experts say. It reinforces society’s acceptance of migrants, of their socio-economic position and political participation, and strengthens their feelings of belonging and confidence in the country that welcomes them, the report says.

Good marks for access to healthcare

On the bright side, the country offers certain advantages to immigrants. The study highlights ease of access to healthcare as one prime example, which hoists Switzerland up to second place in the rankings in this area, alongside Ireland, New Zealand and Sweden. In addition, the report praises an information portal on equal opportunity access to healthcare (called migesplus) available in 56 languages.

The Swiss labour market also offers interesting opportunities to some non-European citizens who have a work permit. They can become self-employed, apply for a job in the public service, obtain social assistance and have access to training. In this area, the Swiss score the European average.

Translated from French by Sophie Douez

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