Switzerland Facts
Area:    41,290 sq. km.
Capital:    Berne
Total Population:    7,260,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

There is no basis for thinking that foreign workers in Switzerland will begin to employ militant strategies in their attempts to gain more rights. As "guests" of the state, they simply would be deported. The workers must always walk a fine line between attempting to secure a better situation for themselves and avoiding giving offense to the Swiss people, who have shown in the past their willingness to restrict immigration and limit the rights of foreigners already in the country.

The workers have shown in the past that they use political action in efforts to improve their situation, and they do have some of the general risk factors for protest: they are politically restricted and have the support of outsiders such as the International Labour Organisation and the European Union. So long as the group is economically disadvantaged, denied political rights, and restricted in their movements within Switzerland, the potential for future political action is substantial.

Analytic Summary

Switzerland has some of the strictest immigration and citizenship laws in all of Europe. As a result Switzerland has a very large population of foreign workers who have been recruited to fill the country's need for unskilled and semi-skilled labor. Foreign workers face almost insurmountable barriers to citizenship and their employment opportunities and movement are closely regulated. The issue of Switzerland's restrictive laws on foreign workers is one of the key disagreements that has prevented Switzerland from becoming a member of the European Union.

The foreign workers in Switzerland are a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, and Italian, as well as refugees from the Balkans and elsewhere, virtually all of whom have arrived in the last half century (TRADITN = 5). As a result the group as a whole is linguistically (LANG = 2), culturally (CUSTOM = 1) and religiously distinct (BELIEF = 1) from the native Swiss population. They are dispersed throughout the country (GROUPCON= 0) and, as expected from a group comprised of many other groups, socially fragmented (COHESX9 = 3). Most organizations represent the interests of foreign workers behalf are specific to their national origins. Organizations such as the Confederazione delle Colonie Libere Italiane in Svizzera and the Associacion de Trabajodores Espanoles in Suica are older, established organizations that represent Italian and Spanish workers respectfully, while other groups such as Portuguese Democratic Action and the Federation of Turkish Workers' Organizations in Switzerland are newer.

Since the Swiss government denies citizenship to most foreign workers, they lack the legal protections and rights of the larger population. They are unable to vote and must adhere to the rules laid down by the canton in which they work, rules that determine what jobs they can hold and whether they can change jobs or move to another area (POLDIS03 = 2). As a result most foreign workers are denied opportunities to get better, higher paying jobs (ECODIS03 = 4). In 2000 they faced the prospect of a further decline in their status because of a plebiscite that proposed severe restrictions on the number of foreign workers in the country at any one time. The plebiscite was defeated. In 2003 the Swiss government eased restrictions on some foreign workers - particularly those who had 5 or more years of Swiss education. The policies still need to be ratified through referendum and for those who do not qualify, policies remain exclusionary. While there has been no cases of overt government repression, inter-group conflict has occurred recently as foreign workers have been attacked by right-wing Swiss (COMCON99 = 2, COMCON00 = 1). However, no incidents were reported between 2001 and 2003 (COMCON01-03 = 0).

The grievances of foreign workers in Switzerland are straightforward. They want equal rights, or at least improved rights within Swiss society. They would like requirements for citizenship loosened, access to better jobs, and equal rights to social services and pensions.

In the past, foreign workers in Switzerland have been highly vocal in their attempts to gain more recognition. Political organizing and protest started the late 1960s (PROT65X = 2) and escalated to strikes in the early 1970s (PROT70X = 4). In the last several years, however, we find few reports of political action (PROT00-02 = 0, PROT03 = 1). As expected for people who have migrated to Switzerland to find a better living, no militant or violent activity has ever been reported (REB00-03 = 0).


Ireland, Patrick The Policy Challenge of Ethnic Diversity: Immigrant Politics in France and Switzerland, Cambridge: Harvard U. Press, 1994.

Lexis/Nexis: All news files 1990-2003.

Lexis/Nexis: US Department of State Human Rights Reports for 1990, 1991, 1993 & 1994


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