When the Export of Social Problems Is No Longer Possible: Immigration Policies and Unemployment in Switzerland

Author(s) : Alexandre Afonso

Source : http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9515.2005.00462.x


Throughout the twentieth century, Switzerland has been one of the OECD countries with the highest proportion of immigrants in its population. The aim of this article is to show how institutional factors have shaped the opportunities for change in immigration and immigrant-employment-related policies there in the 1990s. Whereas unemployment had remained low in the 1970s and 1980s, there was a marked increase at the beginning of the 1990s. Existing migration policies were considered a central cause of this increase, since the great majority of foreigners who had come and settled in Switzerland in the periods of economic expansion were low-skilled, and were now over-represented among the unemployed. The reforms undertaken in the field of immigration and integration policy to respond to these new problems have been determined by specific institutional factors: direct democracy, a defensive migration regime, the development of immigrant rights and the weak autonomy of the central state. These factors account to a large extent for the limited scope and specific pathways of policy reforms in these two domains.