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.