German immigration to Switzerland

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German migrants in Switzerland
Erntedankfest dt. Konsulat St. Gallen.JPG
Invitation to thanksgiving evening by German consul in St. Gallen (1940)
Total population
266,000 (2009)
Regions with significant populations
Zürich; Zürich metropolitan area; Swiss plateau
Mostly Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism.

About a quarter of a million German nationals had permanent residence in Switzerland in 2009. Ever since the emergence of Switzerland and Germany as distinct nations in the Early Modern period,[1] there has been considerable population movement in both directions, but meaningful population statistics become available only after the Napoleonic era, with the formation of the restored Swiss Confederacy and the German Confederation in 1815.


Because of the unequal size of the two countries, Germany being roughly ten times larger than Switzerland, German residents in Switzerland have a much greater visibility than Swiss residents in Germany: In 2007, about 37,000 Swiss nationals, or about 1 in 180 Swiss citizens, lived in Germany, accounting for just 0.05% of German population. At the same time, about 224,000 German nationals, or 1 in 350 German citizens, lived in Switzerland, accounting for 3% of Swiss population.[2]

The number of Germans in Switzerland has doubled in the period of 2002 to 2009. The reason for this is the Swiss–European treaty regarding the freedom of movement for workers, activated in 2002. While the freedom of movement treaty applies to all EU citizens, German nationals have been the main beneficiaries because their proficiency in the German language allows them to take qualified jobs in German-speaking Switzerland without the added difficulty of a language barrier.

As of 2009, they were the second-largest expatriate group in Switzerland, numbering 266,000 (or 3.4% of total Swiss population) second to the Italians with 294,000 (3.7% of total Swiss population). 22,000 were born in Switzerland (of these, 18,000 were minors, children born to German parents living in Switzerland). 19,000 Germans with permanent residence in Switzerland were married to a Swiss citizen.

In 2007, the number of Germans in Switzerland passed the historical maximum of 220,000 Germans recorded prior to World War I. However, because of the lower total population at the time, the pre-1914 fraction of Germans relative to total Swiss population was as high as 6%. The rate of naturalizations has also steeply increased since 2007.[3] The reason for this, beyond the rising number of qualifying German nationals who had resided in Switzerland for the twelve years required by Swiss nationality law, was a change in German nationality law which permitted German nationals to hold Swiss-German dual citizenship (while prior to 2007, Germans wishing to be naturalized in Switzerland had to give up their German citizenship).[4]

Historical demographics:

year 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
German population
97 99 101 104 110 118 127 139 151 164 181 201 224 252 266
percentage 1.3% 1.6% 2.4% 2.9% 3.4%
naturalizations 1,290 3,969

German citizens with permanent residence in Switzerland by canton (2009): Zürich 72,000 (5.5%); Aargau 25,000 (4.1%); Berne 24,000 (2.5%); Thurgau 15,000 (6.3%); Basel-City 13,000 (6.8%); Lucerne 11,000 (3.0%); Basel-Country 10,000 (3.7%).

German citizens have mostly settled in Zürich and the city's wider metropolitan area. Already at the historical maximum of German presence in Switzerland in 1910, German population in Zürich was as high as 41,000 or 22% of the city's total population. As of 2009, German population in Zürich was at about 30,000, or close to 8%.[5]

Reception and image in Switzerland[edit]

Since 2007, there have been reports on Swiss xenophobia (or "germanophobia") directed against German immigration, both in Swiss and in German media.[6] While Swiss opposition against immigration from Southeast Europe and Africa is characterized by concerns about criminality and the burden put on social welfare by large numbers of lower class or destitute immigrants, opposition to immigration from Germany has a contrary motivation, notably the fear of competition from qualified immigrants on the job market, and rising prices on the real-estate market because of the increased demand created by well-to-do German immigrants, while in terms of crime rate, the German community was recorded as the group with lowest delinquency, at only 0.6% of the crime rate among Swiss nationals.[7]

The extent of and reasons for Swiss opposition to German immigration were studied in Helbling (2011), based on a survey of 1,300 Swiss from Zürich (the main target of recent German immigration). Helbling found that the Germans were the fourth-most disliked immigrant group in Zürich, following the immigrants from Former Yugoslavia (considered as a single group), Turkey and the Arab World.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ The Swiss became exempt from the jurisdiction of the Imperial Diet in 1499 as a result of the Swabian War. Formal recognition of Swiss independence dates to 1648 (Peace of Westphalia).
  2. ^ Note that this comparison ignores dual citizenship. As of 2007, Switzerland recorded 75,000 Swiss citizens residing in Germany, while Germany recorded only 37,000 foreign nationals with Swiss citizenship, suggesting that the remaining 38,000 people have dual Swiss-German citizenship.[dubious ]
  3. ^ Pro Tag werden 10 Deutsche eingebürgert, >Tages-Anzeiger 30 May 2010.
  4. ^ Swissinfo 31 August 2007
  5. ^ Die Zeit, Wie die Schweiz tickt (2009)
  6. ^ e.g. Der Spiegel, January 2007; Bild, February 2010; Swiss Television, October 2009.
  7. ^ Neue Statistik: Tamilen sind krimineller als Ex-Jugoslawen, Tages-Anzeiger 12 September 2010.
  • Official demographic data from Swiss Federal Statistics Office
  • Marc Helbling (2011): “Why Swiss-Germans dislike Germans. Opposition to culturally similar and highly skilled immigrants”, European Societies 13(1): 5-27.[1]