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The Swiss cantons where expats don’t settle

  • By The Swiss Times
  • 4 April 2023
Switzerland is a country that many foreigners call “home” – whether for a few years or for the rest of their lives. But three Swiss regions simply don’t attract them. Why?
The Swiss cantons where expats don’t settle
Switzerland is home to many foreigners — young professionals on work visas, permanent residents and migrants who are seeking refuge.

While Switzerland is home to many immigrants – be it expats on work visas or permanent residents who have made Switzerland their home – three areas of the country simply do not attract outsiders. Why are there so few foreigners in cantons Appenzell, Uri and Jura? A regional journalist with The Local investigates.

Drawing on 2021 federal statistics on permanent residents in Switzerland, 26% are foreign, 31% were born abroad, and nearly 40% recently migrated. Most settle in Switzerland’s big cities for cushy Swiss jobs in places such as Geneva, Basel and Vaud. About 41% of canton Geneva residents are expats, in fact. But what about the cantons with the fewest foreigners?

The Swiss cantons where expats don’t settle
Appenzell has preserved its traditional Swissness, from centuries-old architecture to not allowing women’s suffrage until modern times.
Appenzell

Ah, Appenzell. This canton is frequently listed on Switzerland’s of more acquired tastes given that they encourage children to smoke and only gave women the right to vote in the 1990s. Some say the canton is a living time machine to a more traditional way of Swiss life.

As the canton is interested in deterring tourists from visiting, it should come as no surprise that they are not attracting a large number of expats to settle there, either. With only 16,000 residents in the entire region, about 10% are foreigners. Why?

The main reason may be how ill-connected the mountainous area is from the rest of the country. There is no national highway running through the canton, nor a standard gauge train track. Appenzellers are mostly involved in agriculture, specifically cattle and dairy, which is why Appenzeller cheese is so famous. That said, it is unlikely expats will secure a coveted work visa for milking cows.

The Swiss cantons where expats don’t settle
Uri’s main industry is tourism — from the Wilhelm Tell Museum to Rütli, Uri embraces tradition.
Uri

In 2021, about 13% of its 37,000 residents were foreign nationals. This is surprising considering that Uri is well-connected, centrally located, and that all four national Swiss languages are spoken there – providing more opportunities to those who speak another language.

Uri is one of Switzerland’s oldest regions and home to so many famous Swiss sites (such as the Wilhelm Tell Museum and Rütli), that it is no wonder that tourism is the main industry here. But apparently expats would rather visit Uri than settle there.

The Swiss cantons where expats don’t settle
The canton of Jura overlooks the canton with the most foreigners, Geneva.
Jura

Despite bordering Switzerland’s most foreign-heavy area of Geneva, only 15% of Jura’s population of 73,000 are foreign. But while Geneva boasts a thriving metropolis with culture and businesses booming, Jura struggles economically.

The canton has the highest unemployment rate at 3.7% (the national unemployment rate is 2%). Unfortunately, property theft is on the rise in Jura – local police say that it increased by 14% in the last year. The biggest industry in Jura is horse-breeding the local Freiberger breed, also known as the ‘Jura-Pferd.’ Moreover, you won’t find a single traffic light in the canton.

Dreaming of living in Switzerland? Check out The Swiss Times’ Guide to becoming a Swiss expat.

This article may be freely shared and re-printed, provided that it prominently links back to the original article.

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