Download MIPEX III Switzerland in French and Italian (pdf)



Switzerland’s newcomer population is largely European, as free movement for EU citizens gradually opens, while conditions toughen for non-EU workers. Reforms of Aliens’ Law, naturalisation, internal mobility and integration are on the agenda.

Scoring 43 overall, no Swiss policy emerges as slightly favourable for integration, although labour market mobility comes close — and political participation even closer. Switzerland ranks behind FR, DE, IT and closer to AT and Central Europe. Major immigration cantons provide voting rights, consultation, education and labour market mobility like established immigration countries. Its low-scoring policies do not benefit from many EU and Council of Europe standards.

Federal standards are shifting integration responsibility to cantons and grant them much discretion e.g. conditions for family reunion and citizenship. Cantons evaluate the ‘degree of integration’, create contracts, and adopt integration laws, but without a national definition. While national funds are co-ordinated, evaluations and indicators are encouraged, but not required.

Switzerland registered no major MIPEX changes since 2007, only that cantons established consultative bodies. It has not reformed like other countries, losing 3 places to LT, CZ (basic anti-discrimination laws) and GR (facilitated naturalisation, jus soli citizenship).

Timeline - What's Changed

0 March 2007
Aliens law, III integration
New Aliens Law and draft executive order on integration.
0 June 2007
Inter-cantonal agreement HarmoS to improve education policy, also for migrants.
0 February 2008
Long-term residence
Referendum proposed deporting residents with criminal record. Also counter-proposal on integration. Vote in November 2010.
0 January 2009
Access to nationality
Democratic naturalisations’ outlawed after Federal High Court decision, defeated referendum, new Naturalisation Act.
0 August 2009
Access to nationality
Government proposes total revision of nationality law.

Key Findings

  • Switzerland ranks 23rd with 43 points and no major change since 2007, despite new laws. 
  • With no policies scoring slightly favourable, falling behind established and now reforming countries. 
  • Low federal integration standards, policies can vary under cantonal discretion. 
  • Migrants can face restrictive conditions for family reunion, long-term residence and naturalisation. 
  • Limited labour market access and general support for non-EU residents. 
  • Swiss face similar challenges as across Europe for migrant pupils, but good chances to learn immigrant languages and cultures. 
  • Major cantons facilitate political participation with voting rights and consultation. 
  • Worst protections against discrimination: victims cannot rely on dedicated laws, enforcement, equality body, unlike nearly all countries. 

Score Changes

Areas of Integration

  • Show Labour Market Mobility

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    Switzerland scores below the average of established immigration countries (DK, DE, NL), especially those attracting labour migrants (CA, ES, UK, US), as it restricts access and mainstream support for non-EU residents. While EU citizens have gradually gained access to the labour market, non-EU highly-skilled residents and their families cannot equally work or change jobs. Most cantons also close off parts of the public sector, though migrants can work in federal public jobs (as AT, NL, Nordics, UK). Cantons also limit self-employment to longterm residents (only 6 other countries) as well as education and study grants for some (only 5). There is no equal access to social assistance (as half countries, mostly with few immigrants).

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    Migrant families face some of the least favourable family reunion procedures, similar to AT but below most European countries (including FR, DE). Beyond 3 basic minimum conditions in law (no social assistance, living together, appropriate accommodation), cantons can impose even more, whose effects may be to delay and discourage families’ integration. Sponsors often prove higher incomes (only 5 other countries) and meet integration conditions (6 others) during costly and potentially long procedures. Restrictions extend to minor children (unlike 28) while extended families cannot apply (unlike 21). Reunited families have average security but less opportunity to integrate, with limited access to employment (unlike 22) and education (unlike 26), and few chances for autonomous status.

  • Show Education

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    Cantonal policies, standards

    The first official document on migrant education was 1991’s federal recommendations on foreign language-speaking children. HarmoS inter-cantonal agreement of 2007 later aimed to address needs of the increasingly mobile population between languages and cantons, including migrants. The process began years ago, picking up after Switzerland’s results in the international PISA study. Widely approved by referendum, it was ratified by only 12 cantons, mostly those with higher mobility. MIPEX also uses mappings of cantonal education policies (i.e. Fibbi and Mellone 2010) and those in Basel and Geneva.

    Migrant pupils face similar challenges on access and needs as in many European countries, but enjoy better opportunities to learn languages and cultures of origin under the HarmoS agreement (see box).
    Federal recommendations encourage access for all to compulsory schooling and 2 new pre-primary years. Cantons often targeted participation in just compulsory and vocational education, but are evolving (see DE, Nordics, NL). Migrant pupils may benefit from the recommendations on induction, extra tuition and pre-service training. There are few federal or cantonal quality standards for teaching national languages to immigrants (for other federal/decentralised countries, see Nordics, US). Depending on the canton, children receive slightly unfavourable intercultural education compared to most European countries (DE, Benelux). 

  • Show Political Participation

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    Cantons do best at promoting integration when granting all residents basic political opportunities, like other established immigration countries. Foreigners can vote in local and cantonal elections in several cantons and enjoy basic political liberties in all (as 19 other countries). Immigrant associations must fulfil several conditions for State funding on integration. They are consulted by local and national government, as well as 21 cantons, including through 17 permanent and mostly recent consultative bodies. Participants may find them only slightly favourable for meaningful participation, since participants are not freely elected by their communities or organisations. They also do not fully represent different nationalities, generations, gender, etc. See FI, LU, NO; BE and DE (regional); IT (Rome).

  • Show Long Term Residence

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    Switzerland: a secure home?

    Personal circumstances will be considered in expulsion cases but long-term residence is rejected or withdrawn on wide grounds (unlike in 18 countries, including AT, DE, NL), without protection for any group, even those living there for years or since childhood (unlike BE, FR, IT, NL). A referendum in November 2010 will determine whether or not Switzerland widens these grounds further by systematically expelling all foreign nationals with a criminal record and precluding re-entry for many years.

    Swiss policies on long-term residence are the 3rd most discouraging for residents who want equal opportunities to participate in society. Migrants face the 2nd most restrictive eligibility criteria and conditions, far below most European countries, which have converged around EU standards. In Switzerland, migrants wait longer than the 5-year EU standard and many categories are excluded. They cannot count time as students (unlike 21 countries, recently AT, BE). Cantons can impose several unfavourable conditions, as for family reunion. While applicants are recommended to prove just elementary knowledge of any national language, cantons can define higher. Longterm residents gain only half-way security (see box). 

  • Show Access to Nationality

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    Basic security

    Before 2003, cantons gave naturalisation to any authority: bureaucrats, legislatures (as in only BE and DK), even voters (only one), without requiring any evidence to justify their decisions. Voters could see applicants’ private information, treat differently those meeting the same conditions and discriminate against those with certain backgrounds. Federal High Court judgments outlawed ballot box naturalisations and guaranteed reasoned decisions and appeals. Later followed a failed 2008 referendum and successful federal act, citing the European Convention on Nationality. No statistics exist on whether these guarantees changed naturalisation outcomes.


    Future reform?

    2009’s Naturalisation bill proposed 3 goals: to ‘harmonise and simplify administrative requirements’, ‘reduce administrative duplication’ and ‘assure that only well integrated foreigners obtain Swiss passports’. The reasoning is that more people moving between cantons are penalised by the different naturalisation conditions. The bill would nationally define ‘successful integration’ and knowledge of 1 national language, reduce residence requirements from 12 to 8 years to encourage ‘rapid’ integration, restrict eligibility to long-term residents as a ‘guarantor of integration’, and introduce time limits to accelerate procedures.

    Nationality policies are still slightly unfavourable for encouraging and recognising immigrants’ integration. Recently, all applicants have been guaranteed security from discrimination and discretion (see box). Still, their citizenship paths are more complicated and lengthy than average in Europe, especially its established immigration countries. The issue is regularly politicised by the Swiss People’s Party. Reforming countries draw from international trends to better encourage immigrants and descendants to become citizens (see LU in 2008, GR in 2010). With procedures shifting canton-to-canton, Swiss immigrants lack basic citizenship entitlements and standards on residence and conditions (see box).

    Many immigrants who would pass conditions as ‘integrated’ are still treated as ineligible for years. The first generation waits 12+ uninterrupted years, longer than in any of the 30 MIPEX countries.

    Most established immigration countries require 3–7 years, closer to Swiss requirements for spouses/partners (5 years). Moreover, Swissborn children and grandchildren are not entitled to citizenship at or after birth, which was again unsuccessful in a 2004 referendum. More immigration countries (now 15) are mixing traditional jus sanguinis with jus soli, with goals to include and recognise future generations (recently DE, SE, FI, PT, LU, GR). Most others without jus soli are Central European countries without many immigrant children.

    Complex and burdensome conditions in cantons are critically unfavourable for integration, with only Switzerland scoring zero. Cantons decide who qualifies as Swiss national citizens, as well as what is integration and ‘Swiss lifestyles, manners and customs’. Unlike in other federal countries (see AT, CA, DE, US), all applicants are not supported to succeed with professional assessments, public test questions and free courses. Becoming Swiss can be time-consuming (no time limit, unlike 13) and the most expensive of all MIPEX countries, averaging an estimated 1,500 euros. At least applicants face one less barrier to naturalisation since 1992: no need to renounce previous citizenship (now 18 MIPEX countries). Applicants are still partly uncertain of the outcome, even if they meet these conditions (unlike 10 countries, e.g. DE, NL). Authorities have many grounds for rejection, but few for withdrawal, good statelessness protection and now procedural guarantees (see box). 

  • Show Anti-discrimination

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    After LV, Switzerland has the poorest protection, without dedicated laws and no progress since 2007. Most other countries made their greatest gains on integration through anti-discrimination, often because of European standards. Since Switzerland’s limited definitions do not directly extend to the major areas of life, residents are exposed to discrimination on many grounds. Swiss enforcement mechanisms are weak. Victims can only bring individual cases and only to court, with no sharing the burden of proof, State aid or protections against victimisation. Equality bodies are ineffective, only giving advice, without further powers to initiate investigations or join proceedings. Nearly all other European countries grant victims slightly favourable enforcement possibilities and equality bodies with legal standing.