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Study: Cross-border workers do not steal Swiss jobs 

Published on 17/05/2019

Cross-border commuters working in Switzerland do not replace the local workforce. On the contrary, they can have a beneficial impact on the Swiss labour market, according to Sylvain Weber, the co-author of a study on this controversial issue.

“An increase in the flow of cross-border commuters is not followed by an increase in the indigenous unemployment rate,” Weber told swissinfo.ch in an exclusive interview. “Regardless of the method used, a similar result is achieved: cross-border workers do not put Swiss residents out of work.”

Nearly 315,000 cross-border workers commute daily between their French, German, Italian or Austrian homes and their Swiss workplace. That is 6% of the total active workforce in Switzerland; a rate that rises to more than 30% in cantons Geneva, Basel City and Ticino.

While their massive presence often raises concerns and even rejection, it has little negative impact on the local labour market, according to a study by three Swiss economists. The study looks at two decades worth of data drawn from across Switzerland rather than focusing on just one region.

“A company seeks to hire qualified personnel where it is established,” notes Weber, a researcher at the University of Neuchâtel. “If it does not find the profiles it is looking for, it may be forced to relocate part of its activities. Thanks to the border workers, it can therefore maintain its activities on the spot, which will also benefit the local workforce.

In Geneva, the Geneva Citizens’ Movement (Mouvement Citoyens Genevois) has made the rejection of frontier workers its electoral business. But the researchers who analysed the data of the western canton found no causal link between the unemployment rate and the number of cross-border workers.

French-speaking cantons have unemployment rates well above the 2.9% national average: Neuchatel (5.3%), Geneva (4.9%), Jura (4.0%) and Vaud (4.11%). The explanation, according to Weber, lies more in the structure of the labour market than the impact of cross-border workers.

In German-speaking Switzerland, vocational training is much more widespread than in French-speaking Switzerland, which is more oriented towards French-language academic training, he notes. Young people find work much more quickly when they leave an apprenticeship, which has an impact on the overall unemployment rate.