Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 4
  • Print publication year: 1985
  • Online publication date: November 2011

7 - Switzerland


Immigration and immigration policy

Historical background

Considering its economic capacity Switzerland was long overpopulated. The problems arising from this situation were dealt with by the systematic promotion of emigration. Military emigration, i.e. enlistment as mercenaries, was the preferred form of emigration, and it had become institutionalized by the sixteenth century. Between 300,000 and 350,000 mercenaries emigrated from Switzerland in the eighteenth century (Bickel 1947:91).

Compared with the huge emigration of this period, immigration was of little importance. The only significant immigration resulted from religious persecution in neighboring countries. Between 100,000 and 150,000 Huguenots rushed to Switzerland after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685), but only about one tenth remained there permanently (Bickel 1947:88,106f; Ludwig n.d.:14). Civil immigration never came close to military emigration in importance; only 40,000–50,000 persons immigrated in the eighteenth century, a time when Switzerland's total population was 1.7 million (Bickel 1947:50,99). The main reason for this low immigration rate was probably that Switzerland had little economic attraction at the time. In addition, the extremely restrictive immigration policy of the cantons and communities, which tried to keep out even other Swiss, may also have played a role (Bickel 1947:102; Langhard 1913:3f).

In the first decades of the nineteenth century Switzerland had no centralized immigration policy. A short phase of leniency during the Helvetic Republic (1799–1802) and the Mediation Period (1803–14) was followed in 1815 by a return to the extremely restrictive policy of the eighteenth century (Moser 1967:331).