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Few regrets for immigrants in Switzerland

Some of the foreign population living in Switzerland said they feared losing their residence permits because of the health crisis. Keystone / Gaetan Bally

Most immigrants living in Switzerland, with a few caveats, say they feel at home in their adopted country and would not have wanted to be anywhere else during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a study by the National Centres for Competence in Research.

This content was published on June 3, 2021 - 09:00

With the imposition of border closures, obligatory quarantine and PCR tests in order to fight the coronavirus, expatriation has taken on a whole new meaning since March 2020. But even deprived of international travel and reunions with loved ones back home, most immigrants have no regrets about having chosen to make Switzerland home.

More than three-quarters of foreigners surveyed for the Migration-MobilityExternal link study, which was carried out between October 2020 and January 2021, said they felt they were “in the right place” in Switzerland during the pandemic; only a small minority reported feeling homesick. The sample of 7,400 people is representative of the foreign adult population living and working in Switzerland.

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It is interesting to observe that in the unprecedented context of the Covid-19 pandemic, and despite the difficulties, “Switzerland is the place where these people feel best”, summarises Philippe Wanner, demographer and vice director of the National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCR – On The Move), which supervised the study. These results vary somewhat depending on nationality and other socio-demographic criteria.

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Sometimes complicated integration

For a small group of respondents, social integration and contacts with the Swiss population are not, however, obvious. Wanner reveals difficulties in communicating and in making Swiss friends, due to cultural and linguistic reasons (just half of those questioned were fluent in the language of where they lived).

“The study also reveals quite a high level of perceived discrimination, notably in Asian and African subgroups,” Wanner adds. Around a quarter of people reported having experienced prejudice or discrimination during the past two years.

But the quality of life in Switzerland outweighs the few negatives. More than two-thirds evaluated their satisfaction at having emigrated to Switzerland at nine or ten out of ten. This result has increased slightly compared with the previous studies, which have been conducted every two years since 2016.

However, it must be acknowledged that the panel comprises mainly people who have succeeded at integrating, Wanner cautions.

“The majority of respondents are mobile people, who came of their own accord having negotiated a job before migrating,” he says.

In fact, eight out of ten people say their professional situation has improved through emigration.

Exposed to unemployment

In professional terms, the semi-lockdown of spring 2020 globally had little impact on most of the foreigners questioned for the study – a result which is very close to that seen among the Swiss in another poll.

This is explained by the good general level of training of Switzerland’s immigrant population – highly qualified people represent almost 60% of the panel (an increase of nine points since 2016). Job losses mostly impacted the least educated and the lower social classes.

“These criteria were more determinant than the nationality,” Wanner says.

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Passport appeal on the rise

In some cases the pandemic has given rise to uncertainty concerning residency status. One in ten people said they feared losing the right to stay in Switzerland, and the proportion was higher among the least qualified.

These concerns were not always justified, because very few (less than 1%) have actually lost their residency permit, but they go hand in hand with an increased interest in naturalisation compared with previous years. More than half the people surveyed said they intended to apply for a Swiss passport one day. This proportion has increased by 13 points since 2016.

According to the research team, several factors other than the pandemic could explain this: the increased number of years spent in Switzerland (for some in the panel), the debates which preceded the revision of the Federal Act on Swiss CitizenshipExternal link or even Brexit for the Britons.

But Covid-19 is also cited as a trigger for a small group of respondents, who see obtaining Swiss nationality as a means of anchoring themselves in their adopted country. And surely to cement a feeling of belonging: three-quarters of survey participants declared a strong attachment to Switzerland and considered themselves full members of Swiss society.

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