For members


EXPLAINED: Switzerland’s referendum to restrict EU migration

On September 27th, Switzerland will go to the polls to vote on an initiative to restrict migration from EU states.

EXPLAINED: Switzerland's referendum to restrict EU migration
A Swiss People’s Party (SVP) poster showing a cartoon worker wearing a belt studded with EU stars, crushing the red and white map of Switzerland with his wide rear end that translates from German as "

The centrepiece of the September referenda is the right-wing Swiss People’s Party initiative (SVP) on implementing a cap on EU migration. 

The ‘moderate immigration limitation initiative’ will restrict EU freedom of movement in Switzerland. 

EXPLAINED: What is Switzerland's referendum on restricting migration all about?

If the vote is successful, Switzerland and the EU will have one year in which to renegotiate freedom of movement provisions. 

This has long been one of the SVP’s core issues – particularly since a similar proposal was defeated at a referendum in 2014 – with supporters believing too many foreigners are taking advantage of the current system. 

The SVP argue that the current migration system places too much stress on the labour market, social services and infrastructure. 

“We must first secure jobs for ourselves as citizens,” the SVP writes

An estimated one quarter of Swiss residents are foreigners – which rises to as high as 50 percent in cities such as Zurich – many of whom do not have citizenship and therefore the right to vote. 

READ MORE: ‘I pay taxes but have no say in Swiss life': Your views on whether Switzerland should allow all foreigners to vote 

The Swiss government and all major parties besides the SVP reject the initiative. 

Regardless of the outcome, experts have also predicted that Swiss-EU relations could be significantly impacted.

The government is concerned it will make it harder to find workers and damage the economy, while there are also concerns that it will mean reciprocal rights for Swiss citizens in the EU will be restricted. 

How will the referendum change migration? Photo: Stefan WERMUTH / AFP

'Ruin the economy'

The Swiss Federal Council said that the initiative would end free movement and threaten the country’s economic prosperity. 

The Council said the cost could be between 460 to 630 billion over the next 20 years. 

The initiative seeks to curb EU migration into Switzerland. Under the initiative, Switzerland would set its own migration quotas. 

Currently, while Switzerland is not a member of the EU, EU citizens are free to live and work in Switzerland and vice versa. 

While comparisons have been made between the initiative and the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum, one major difference between the two is that the EU has no obligation to negotiate a deal with Switzerland should the existing freedom of movement rights be terminated. 

Karin Keller-Sutter, a member of the seven-person executive which acts as Switzerland’s head of state, said supporters were gambling with Switzerland’s future. 

“It’s a poker game and a leap into the unknown. It’s irresponsible,” she said. 

“We don’t have a plan B.”

She also warned that a range of other arrangements which impact trade and commerce would be put at risk. The EU is Switzerland’s major trading partner, with exports to the bloc making up more than half of Switzerland’s total. 

If the initiative is approved, Bern and Brussels would have one year to hammer out a new migration deal. While the SVP is staunchly in favour of the proposal, the remainder of the larger Swiss political parties are against it. 

A sign in French says “voting today” in Switzerland. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

How likely is it that the referendum will pass? 

In early 2020, most experts felt that the referendum would fail – just as similar efforts have failed in the past. 

However, as reported by The Local Switzerland in May, the pandemic led to an increase in Swiss nationalist sentiment, with even centre-left parties supporting policies under a 'Switzerland First' mantra. 

Although such calls are relatively common place among members of the right-wing populist Swiss People’s Party, they have gained traction among the centre and centre-left parties on the Swiss political landscape. 

The centre-left Social Democrats – normally advocates of further European integration – have laid out a ‘Switzerland first’ investment program to encourage the country to learn the lessons of the coronavirus. 

The investment program says it aims to ‘break the taboo’ surrounding the nationalisation of production, particularly with regard to items of strategic importance. 

Michael Siegenthaler, a Labour market specialist at KOF Swiss Economic Institute in Zurich, told The Local that the rise in nationalist sentiment could see the referendum pass. 

“This is going to be a big debate now in the upcoming vote. Who is going to win?”

“It is obvious, again, that cross-border workers are important for the Swiss labour market – for instance for the health sector they are extremely important – but we are not sure whether this narrative is going to win. 

“I don't have an answer, but I do know that there are people who are up high in the government who are afraid (that the referendum will pass). 

“Before covid they were relatively sure that the initiative didn't have a chance. But now, especially if people have lost their jobs, they will find a scapegoat for their personal situation – and it will be cross-border workers or immigrants in general who will be the scape goat.”


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For members


Three Swiss cantons overlooked by foreigners

Many foreigners are drawn to Switzerland thanks to factors like the high quality of living. But which cantons are less popular with international residents?

Three Swiss cantons overlooked by foreigners

In 2021, 26 percent of the permanent resident population in Switzerland were foreigners, 31 percent were born abroad, and 39 percent had a migration background.

Many foreigners moving to Switzerland choose to live in big cities and areas surrounding urban centres. Unsurprisingly, the cantons of Geneva, Basel City and Vaud have some of the largest proportion of foreign residents at 41, 37 and 33 percent, respectively.

But while The Local has covered the Swiss cantons – and smaller towns – most foreigners choose to settle down in Switzerland, let’s have a look at the cantons that fail to pique their interest.

READ ALSO: Five small towns that attract lots of foreign nationals

Appenzell Innerrhoden

At just 11 percent, Appenzell Innerrhoden is the Swiss canton with the least number of permanent foreign residents. This however doesn’t come as a surprise as the small canton with its 16,578 residents is also Switzerland’s least populated. So, if the Swiss aren’t dying to move to Appenzell Innerrhoden, surely neither will foreigners. But why is that?

First things first, the canton is far from well-connected, and this is in stark contrast with the country as a whole which is known to have one of Europe’s best railway systems. Located in Eastern Switzerland, Appenzell Innerrhoden is off the beaten track as it to this day has neither a national road connection nor does it link to the national standard-gauge train tracks.

Though the canton has a train station – the Bahnhof Appenzell – it is only serviced by the St. Gallen S-Bahn (S20, S21, S23), covering Trogen, Gossau and Wasserauen. This makes a daily commute to Zurich, Basel, and Geneva, all of which are popular working cities for foreigners, inconvenient.

If you’re thinking of skipping a commute by getting a job in the canton itself, you may be looking at a career change. Appenzell Innerrhoden is known for its agriculture (and little else), specifically cattle breeding and dairy farming, with Appenzeller cheese widely available throughout Switzerland.

Interestingly, Appenzell Innerrhoden was the last canton in Switzerland to give women the right to vote at a cantonal level, only allowing them to do so in 1990 – 19 years after they were allowed to vote at a national level (1971).

READ ALSO: Where do Switzerland’s foreigners all live?


The Swiss canton of Uri borders an impressive eight cantons where all four official national languages are spoken, yet despite this accessibility the canton has failed to attract foreigners. In 2021, only 13 percent of its 37,000 residents were foreign nationals, compared to 26 percent Switzerland-wide.

Still, there are plenty of reasons to visit Uri as a tourist – if a permanent move to the canton feels too daunting. As one of Switzerland’s founding cantons alongside Schwyz and Unterwalden, Uri boasts some of the country’s most stunning sights, such as the Teufelsbrücke (devil’s bridge), Wilhelm Tell Museum and the infamous Rütli where the Rütli Oath was sworn.

Unsurprisingly, tourism is one of Uri’s major industries and the canton has an exceptional road network that reaches remote areas in the mountains.

Following SBB’s updated timetable as of December 2022, you can now reach Altdorf – the capital of Uri – even easier. There are 90 train connections every working day from Altdorf (Intercity, Interregio and S-Bahn) to the north and south of the country. You can hop on a train to Uri every two hours from Zurich and Lugano.


Despite being the Swiss canton closest to Paris – from Delémont it takes barely three hours to reach the French capital – Jura is the third least favourite canton for foreigners to permanently settle in. As of 2021, just 15 percent of Jura’s 73,798 inhabitants were foreign nationals.

The French-speaking canton is also Switzerland’s youngest and was established on 1st January 1979 when it split from German-speaking Bern following a series of polls held to decide on the separation. Bern’s districts got to choose whether they wanted to remain with the canton – as they had for 165 years – or join the new Jura. In the end, six districts remained and seven stayed.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

Today, the canton stands out in many ways – not least due to its non-existent traffic lights. In fact, Jura, unlike other Swiss cantons, does not have a single traffic light, relying instead on its residents to keep the traffic running smoothly with a generous number of roundabouts. Traffic lights are only used as a temporary measure during construction.

The canton is also a focus of horse breeding in Switzerland and home to the Freiberger horse breed, formerly known as the ‘Jura-Pferd’ (Jura horse).

Despite its quirks, economically, Jura is one of Switzerland’s weakest cantons which is reflected in its many empty and decaying properties. The canton also has the country’s highest unemployment rate alongside Geneva at 3.7 percent compared to 2.1 percent at the federal level (December 2022).

More recently, Jura’s cantonal police presented the police crime statistics for the year 2022 which showed that crimes against property increased by 14 percent with 1,921 offenses recorded in 2022 compared to 1,684 in 2021. The most frequent property offenses are larceny, burglary, vehicle theft and fraud.