Almost a third of workers throughout Switzerland are from abroad

29% of working people are from abroad, based on OASI data - Usually educated individuals coming from neighboring countries - Average age is 39, versus 43 for the Swiss, and they generally have lower incomes
Dina Aletras
Costanza NaguibeDina Aletras
07.11.2022 06:00

Whether in political or economic debate, there is frequent talk of both immigration and its consequences. The question however is, who are the expats currently present in Switzerland? On the basis of OASI data, we can say that, in broad terms, they are highly well-educated individuals, frequently from bordering nations.

This data is available for scientific research objectives, subject to certain basic conditions of confidentiality and security, and comprises the entire population of working men and women as well as of those who are not employed and hence pay the minimum contribution. These are therefore observations for more than five million individuals each year. Of those, foreigners account for about 29 percent. The median age at the time of arrival in Switzerland for foreigners is 27. An evident limitation of these figures is that they contain information only on people's income and not their wealth.

Mostly Europeans

In a typical year such as 2010, for example, 23 percent of the individuals surveyed were from European countries but were not Swiss citizens. The vast majority of foreigners working permanently within our country are indeed European. Only small percentages come from other parts of the world, for instance, also in 2010, 2.7 percent of workers came from Asia and about 1.5 percent from the Middle East and Africa.

Needless to say, in the case of dual nationals or individuals who have acquired Swiss citizenship over time, the categorization in the data only allows them to be identified as Swiss, and this supplementary information is lost. The average age among foreign workers is 39, while among Swiss is about 43. This is not surprising, as it is often the younger ones who are willing to migrate from their home countries.

Fewer females

The proportion of female’s workers among the Swiss stands at 51 %, while among the foreigners it is lower at around 45%. While the average annual income for the Swiss is 78,000 CHF, which is similar to those from North America, those from other countries earn significantly less on average. In fact, those from Europe are earning an average of 55,000 Swiss francs per year, while those from sub-Saharan Africa earn the lowest annual incomes, with an average of 30,000 Swiss Francs per year.

Yet there are also important differences in terms of employment rates. Restricting the analysis to the active population alone, meaning those between the ages of 15 and 64, this is in fact 90% for Swiss males, but only about 81% for non-national males. This difference is also present for women, where the employment rate is 82 % for Swiss women, but only about 70 % for non-Swiss women. While the average employment rate is around 85 % for people from European countries, it is 67% for those from Latin American countries. Finally, those from the Middle East, Africa and North America have an overall average employment rate of 50%.

In order to go beyond simple averages, the data also show us that foreigners are twice as often as the Swiss to be in the lowest 10 percent, but also in the highest 3 % of the wealth distribution. However, just who are these super wealthy foreigners? For 86 %, they are mostly men from European countries (86% of cases), while only a small number are from the United States (4%) and Asia (about 3%). They are also younger on average (about 40 years old) as compared to the Swiss who are in the same, affluent position (circa 50 years old). Furthermore, these are individuals who arrived here in our country most often after the age of 35, and after having completed a university education abroad (in Europe or the U.S.).

And finally, expatriates are launching entrepreneurial activity relatively less frequently than the Swiss. This contrasts with what scholarly literature has found in the past with reference to the United States. It is believed, as a matter of fact, that due to a set of factors, such as a lack of knowledge of the local labor market or of the specific social agreements of a certain reality, it may in some cases be simpler for foreigners to set up on their own and develop their business idea autonomously.

Few entrepreneurs

This is not the case in Switzerland, where 5.5 % of Swiss are self-employed entrepreneurs, compared to only 2.4 % of foreigners. Probably, the risk aversion channel prevails in this case. That is, launching a business will inevitably involve risks that, without a thorough knowledge of the local reality and perhaps even regulations, foreigners often do not feel like taking on.