How long do immigrants stay in Switzerland?

A quarter of Switzerland’s resident population are not Swiss citizens, giving the country one of the highest ratios of resident foreigners to citizens in the world. But how long do foreigners stay in the country?

This content was published on July 16, 2017 - 11:00 and NCCR - on the move

The issue of foreigners living in Switzerland is a key political debate and often reports on the details of immigration statistics. But now, for the first time, we can show how long foreigners actually stay in the country. Unsurprisingly, the answer varies greatly depending on the country of origin.

Using data provided by the Federal Statistical Office to the NCCR - on the moveExternal link programme, a National Centre of Competence in Research for migration and mobility studies, we retraced 15 years of migratory movements of foreigners who arrived in Switzerland in 1998.

Among the immigrants who arrived in Switzerland in 1998, the proportion of those who had left the country after 15 years was particularly high among the Japanese, Americans or Chinese (more than 80%). Half of them had already left Switzerland after just two years.

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Migrants from neighbouring countries (Italy, France, Germany and Austria) account for almost 40% of all foreign residents in Switzerland. Around 60% of residents from these countries had left Switzerland after 15 years.

According to calculations by the NCCR- on the move programmeExternal link, half of those from European Union/European Free Trade Association countries who arrived in 1998 had left Switzerland after seven and a half years

It should be noted that these figures track migrants who arrived in Switzerland before the 2002 accords with the EU on the free movement of people came into effect. The NCCR estimates that the pace of EU citizens leaving has increased since the accords came into force. The agreements have thus contributed to a heightened level of international mobility.

Note on data methodology

The proportion of people who left Switzerland is calculated based on the 1998 cohort, that is: the foreigners who arrived in Switzerland during the year 1998 and who were still present on December 31 of the same year (excluding those in the asylum process).

For each nationality, the proportion of leavers is calculated by dividing the number of people no longer resident in Switzerland at the end of a year, by the total number of people who immigrated in 1998. For this reason, the proportion can rise or fall from one year to the next depending on the number of departures and returns to Switzerland.

For countries that have undergone a change in nationality, such as for the former Yugoslavia (Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia), it is impossible to know the exact nationality of those who have left Switzerland. This makes it impossible to calculate the departure rate here.  

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