Who benefits from immigration, who loses? The answer: it depends.
Camilla AlaborEditor Sunday view
Switzerland is expected to break the nine-million-resident mark this year. Twenty years ago, significantly fewer people lived in this country: 7.3 million.
In the face of rapid population growth, many are asking – once again – the question: is immigration worth it? In other words: do the locals benefit if around 74,000 people immigrate each year?
Answer: It depends.
Anyone who owns a piece of land or a house is one of the winners. “Due to the increased demand, the value of land and real estate has multiplied,” says Michael Siegenthaler (37), labor market expert at the Economic Research Center (KOF) at ETH Zurich.
Companies that hired immigrants and were able to develop new products as a result also benefited. This also benefits the employees of such companies, for example in the form of wage increases. Ultimately, the winners are the immigrants themselves, whose income has increased with immigration.
Shortage of skilled workers in Germany because of us
The losers live primarily on the other side of the border, says Siegenthaler. “A study shows that the emigration of nurses and doctors has had a negative impact on the quality of treatment in southern German hospitals.” Another – silent – loser is the soil in Switzerland: immigration is accompanied by land loss.
Added to this is the pressure on rents. Those who do not own a house are confronted with rising rents. There are also losers on the labor market, according to economist Siegenthaler. “A study in Ticino found some evidence that wages are coming under pressure because of competition from cross-border commuters.”
And what does immigration mean for the population as a whole?
Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is often passed around as an indicator. In an international comparison, this has not risen excessively. The conclusion then is: immigration is not worthwhile.
Siegenthaler disagrees. GDP per capita does measure the change in prosperity. But: “It only imprecisely depicts many developments that are relevant to the immigration debate.” GDP per capita does not measure the increase in free time that we have gained in recent years: “We work less, but produce the same amount.”
In fact, the number of hours worked per inhabitant has decreased significantly over the past 30 years: Swiss people work more part-time, have more holidays – and the number of pensioners in the total population is increasing.
So our prosperity is one of the drivers of immigration. “Because we work less, we need more employees,” analyzes Siegenthaler. “To put it bluntly: more part-time work leads to more immigration.”
BIP doesn’t tell the whole story
GDP per capita does not reflect this increase in prosperity. In addition, this indicator is influenced by aspects that are irrelevant to the immigration debate – “such as international sporting events or pharmaceutical exports”.
Marius Brülhart (55), economics professor at the University of Lausanne, therefore considers GDP per hour worked to be a more sensible indicator for measuring prosperity. “The number answers the question: How much wealth do we create in one hour of work?”
Since the turn of the millennium, GDP per hour worked has almost always increased – even in the Corona years 2020 and 2021. “That shows very robust productivity growth in our country,” says Brülhart.
The role played by immigration remains open in this case as well. Because whichever way you look at it, the effect of migration on prosperity cannot be measured directly.
However, there are indirect indications of a positive migration effect. An ETH study comes to the conclusion that immigration leads to higher incomes.
Economics professor Aymo Brunetti (59) adds: Without immigrants, the lack of skilled workers would have hindered the development of companies. In addition, immigration acts as an economic buffer because it stabilizes consumption in times of crisis. However, the individual hardly feels such effects.
So what’s the conclusion?
Maybe like this: Some locals get more wages thanks to immigration; others are under pressure from competition. And: some benefit greatly – including the immigrants themselves.