Rapid population growth in Switzerland, but for how long?

Passengers get on and off a crowded train at Zurich station. Keystone / Michael Buholzer

In 2023, Switzerland should cross the border with 9 million people. This can be explained by faster growth than elsewhere in Europe, immigration strong enough to become one of the themes of the upcoming campaign for federal elections.

This content was published on Jan 09, 2023 – 3:30 pm

Fanny Moille, RTS

According to the last census, Switzerland had a population of 8,935,707, including the non-resident foreign population. The situation is clear: population growth is accelerating and in 2023, three years ahead of forecasts, 9 million people should be reached.

This increase is explained by strong migration growth related to the free movement of people, among other factors. Between January and June 2022, immigration in Switzerland increased by 21%.

The main topic of the next federal election

With the federal election looming, this population growth is becoming one of the main themes led by the UDC, which criticizes “excessive immigration”. The first party in Switzerland wants to slow down this development.

“We need more infrastructure, energy supply, rents are increasing: because there is uncontrolled and uncontrolled immigration,” UDC president Marco Chiesa said on RTS on Sunday at 19:30.

The man from Ticino continued: ā€œSwitzerland is a small country. It cannot cover 10 million people. Even today 9 million. “We are losing per capita income, and that means we are losing prosperity.”

Neither immigration nor growth

The population of Switzerland is getting older. The baby boomer generation has already retired and the average age has risen from 31 to 40 in half a century. This evolution has consequences for the labor market, where labor shortages are greater than ever.

For the Swiss Employers’ Union, the country’s economic development is impossible without immigration. “I don’t think it’s time to say stop,” said Simon Wey, chief economist at the umbrella organisation.

“Of course, there is population growth, but the desire of the Swiss population to work part-time leads to the conclusion that if we want to maintain our level of prosperity, we need immigration,” RTS notes.

A global problem

It is difficult to reconcile this prosperity with ecological imperatives. For the Greens, the demographic question goes beyond the borders of Switzerland, and limiting the population to 10 million people is nonsense.

“The pressure of population on the environment is real, but it is measured on a global scale, just as greenhouse gas emissions affect the atmosphere globally. So, if we want to fight against demographic pressure, it’s more about supporting development aid, especially in relation to countries where this pressure still exists”, – comments Valentine Python, National Councilor of Vaud.

Ecology, economy, energy, infrastructure, population growth are strategic issues. So it’s no surprise that immigration is once again one of the leading issues in this election year.

“Switzerland is a country of immigration”

Michel Oris, a demographer at the University of Geneva, unsurprisingly notes that Switzerland, when questioned on a television news program, is “a country of immigration.” For him, the acceleration of net migration remains relative: “We expected to reach these numbers next year or the year after. This is a continuation of the history of population growth after the Second World War.

The researcher notes that almost 60% of recent immigrants have higher education. “They are there to fill vacancies in highly skilled positions. At the average level, on the other hand, Switzerland is still very efficient thanks to dual training and we don’t need many migrants,” he explains.

But in a context where infrastructures are under pressure, isn’t there a threshold that should not be exceeded for Switzerland with a population of 9 million? “It is certain that we may reach the limit, the overpopulation, but we are far from it. 40 years ago, the most populated country in the world was the Netherlands. Today, the most populous country with the most pressure on its infrastructure is Bangladesh ā€“ it’s also one of the poorest on the planet,ā€ replies Michele Oris.

Consequently, the current problems facing Switzerland are “problems stemming from Switzerland’s long-term lack of management upstream and lack of investment expectations,” the demographer concludes.

>> Watch the interview with demographer Michel Oris at 19:30:

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