Is Switzerland Hospitable to Expatriates?

Switzerland was ranked 31st out of 67 countries in a recent study of hospitality for expatriates by the German group Internations. The survey included facts about demography and moving but also about expats’ happiness with the quality of life in their new country, such as work-life balance, raising children and making friends. The study, Expat Insider, classed Switzerland fourth in 2014 and 14th in 2015. In the 2016 study, Switzerland fell 17 places.

A close examination of the study is revealing. While Switzerland ranked third in quality of education and 10th in quality of life, it was 64th in ease of “settling in” with very low marks for friendliness, finding friends and cost of living.
In the specific section on Switzerland, entitled “An Uphill Journey,” the study says: “It might be easy to presume that given the cultural diversity in Switzerland, the local population would be welcoming to foreigners. Unfortunately, while there are four different coexisting languages and cultures in Switzerland… the acceptance of diversity does not seem to extend to newcomers. 36% of expats in Switzerland say the attitude towards foreign residents is generally bad…”
Is this study important? Switzerland continues to have a very high standard of living. The general satisfaction of the Swiss population with the status quo is obvious. Nonetheless, Switzerland seems to be following the global trend of anti-foreigners and reduced immigration. The February 9, 2014 vote was a confirmation of this trend.
So why worry? Not only is there a considerable number of expats in Switzerland, but many of the leading universities and companies depend on expat personnel. If foreigners are not tempted to come to Switzerland, for whatever reason, the country will suffer.
Human resources are important. Personnel matters. Julian Simon makes a case for this in his excellent book, The Ultimate Resource. While the Swiss Government is spending considerable resources on infrastructure, such as buildings for International Geneva, there is little discussion about how foreigners are received, how they feel welcome. The closing of World Radio Switzerland, a public English language radio station, by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, is but one example of insensitivity to an important foreign population.
The number of public officials who speak English would be another example. The recent informal dinner in Geneva with John Kerry and Guillaume Barazzone, the current Mayor of Geneva, is a testimony to the importance of speaking English and familiarity with another culture. (Barazzone holds a master's degree in law (L.L.M.) from Columbia University Law School in New York City.)
Why worry about Switzerland’s place in expats’ eyes? It is obvious that politicians are elected by Swiss citizens. Many expats have no right to vote. But expats are an import part of Switzerland. People are, as Simon argued, the ultimate resource. While the Swiss Government, the government of the Canton and Republic and the city of Geneva are spending considerable resources on infrastructure, it is necessary for them to think about how to improve welcoming expats.  Physical infrastructure is necessary but not sufficient. That is the most important conclusion to be drawn from the study.


Monsieur Warner, votre billet m'interpelle.
Sous un titre qui parle d'accueil sous sa forme la plus humaine envisageable puisque le terme provient de l'hôpital, vous vous foutez un peu de la charité.
Car vos considérations sont purement matérielles et opportunistes.

Qui sont les expats de Genève ? Vous le savez mieux que quiconque. Ils travaillent principalement pour les multinationales et les banques et s'ils ont été délocalisés c'est parce qu'ils font partie d'une classe d'actifs précieux aux exigences démesurées.

Ainsi il faudrait tout leur donner. Villa avec piscine, soirées arrosées en bonnes compagnies, bref tous ces standards internationaux qu'ils veulent pouvoir retrouver dans chaque pays, histoire de se retrouver entre-eux, dans un monde connu et sans effort d'assimilation.

Il est donc bien facile de critiquer tout ce qui ne satisfait pas à leurs exigences et qui est, à mon avis, un nivellement par le bas, une uniformisation appauvrissante des différences culturelles et in fine la destruction de tout ce qui permet l'enrichissement personnel.

Je conduis des taxis depuis quarante ans à Genève et les expats constituent un pourcentage non négligeable de notre clientèle. Ces statistiques ne reflètent nullement mon expérience et je prétends que celui qui a la curiosité de découvrir le monde dans lequel il a été immergé a amplement l'occasion de le faire. Le problème de ceux qui se plaignent c'est qu'ils veulent façonner le monde selon leurs concepts plutôt que de s'inspirer des différences.

Écrit par : Pierre Jenni | 01/09/2016

I'm surprized by the rapid regression of Switzerland's ranking, because in my experience, the situation of parallel worlds in Geneva has a long history.I can't imagine, that things have dramatically changed within three years.
The questions of the polling must have changed ...

When I first arrived in Geneva, at age 11, my family ended up in an expat-environement. They were probably directed to nice locations, as they could afford a villa.
The housing was very expensive (already in 1967), very few Swiss families could pay the rents of our "rive gauche" village. Ours was mostly paid by my father's multinational company.
The company would also have paid for schooling at the International School, that's where all the other neighborhood-kids went.
Our parents had the good sense to put us in the public system, even though they didn't know how long we would stay in Switzerland. ( It ended up being a 7-year professional stay for dad and for us kids, a lasting love and our definitive homeplace.) All of our forgein neighbors went back to their home-countries.
They had made no solid roots, hadn't really learned the language etc.

Finally to my point : It's a two-way deal. The general economy can't do without the forgein work-force, but what about the common woman and man ? The ones, who are supposed to be the welcoming locals ? ( Which in some neigborhoods can be more than 50% of forgein origin themselves...)

I think, expats have to think about their expectations and know what they really want.
If the expats or diplomats come here with a short-term perspective, knowing this is just a temporary experience, they will not have the general approach, that will boost some kind of intergration.
Of course, the Swiss could be expected to have a superficial-type of welcoming behavior, always ready to socialize with newcomers, who will leave after 2-3 years and accept to just start over, again and again with the next newcomers.
Like hotel-owners ! Should we really be expected to keep up a nice well-organized environement and find the energy to accomodate the arriving people with their standards ?
I feel Swiss enough to know, that we can't do it the superficial way. I've lived in Geneva long enough to know that our town and canton is a place, where people mostly come to work ( for a day, for a month or for a few years ) and make a good living and then leave again.
I wouldn't underestimate the necessity of solid infratructures, like in the nice hotel....and coming and going means roads, trains, airports, tunnels, houses, hotels etc
The staying people are the kind to care about them.

Écrit par : Calendula | 02/09/2016

Excellent article on the importance of expats in Switzerland. This is a side of the story which is rarely given a lot of attention.

Écrit par : Deanne | 30/11/2016

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