Geneva economy thrives on foreigners, study finds

Lately, most foreigners coming to Geneva have been young, highly qualified Spanish, Italian and Portuguese workers Keystone

This content was published on November 20, 2014 and agencies

With every second worker in Geneva of foreign origin, the canton owes its economic success to people from abroad, a study has found.

"The opening of Geneva to the world seems to drive the local economy,” said Hélène de Vos Vuadens, deputy director of the Geneva Cantonal Bank, a co-contributor to the study "Craftsmen of the Geneva Economy". “The figures show that exaggerated protectionism harms the growth of the economy.”

The goal of the research – done by scholars at the University of Geneva in partnership with the Geneva Chamber of Commerce, the Geneva Cantonal Bank and the Geneva Cantonal Statistics Office – was to examine the connection between the large influx of foreign migrants in the canton and the state of its economy today.

In the construction sector, 81% of workers in the canton come from abroad, whereas 53% of employees in public administration come from outside Switzerland. The study concluded that foreign influence affects fields requiring highly qualified workers as much as it does those requiring fewer qualifications.

With 40.9% of its population consisting of foreigners from 192 different countries, Geneva is Switzerland’s most international canton and has the largest foreign population. Portuguese, French, Italian and Spanish citizens make up half of that population.

The roots of Geneva’s foreign population go back to the dawn of the watchmaking and banking industries, which brought French and Italian immigrants in particular. Already in 1850, Geneva’s population was a quarter foreign and the canton was home to a fifth of Switzerland’s foreign population. Before World War I, the number of foreigners reached 42%, and the latter half of the 20th century brought continued growth in the areas of research and technology that drew more foreign workers.

Marian Stepczynski, one of the study authors, says she was amazed at the “phenomenal number” of businesses in canton Geneva that were founded by foreigners.

“There we have to ask ourselves whether they aren’t much more dynamic than the rest of the population,” she said.

Migration trends for the canton in the last five years point towards young, well-educated French, Portuguese and Italians coming to work in Geneva, filling positions for which there are not enough well-qualified Swiss workers.

The study, which is in its eighth edition, concluded that the Geneva region has profited more from migration than any other part of Switzerland. At the same time, researchers found that fact to be a weakness, since a change in the political environment could have a profound effect on the economy as a result.

In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

Contributions under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Almost finished... We need to confirm your email address. To complete the subscription process, please click the link in the email we just sent you.

Weekly top stories

Keep up to date with the best stories from SWI on a range of topics, straight into your mailbox.


The SBC Privacy Policy provides additional information on how your data is processed.