The Swiss are restricting immigration, but that doesn’t mean immigration restrictions are back

Switzerland just narrowly passed a referendum to restrict immigration. Prior to the 1990s Switzerland operated a quota system and many people could only work in the country for nine months before having to leave. Europeans have long enjoyed the right to live and work in Switzerland but it seems like a return to the old, more restrictive set-up is certain.

Switzerland is one of the most open countries in Europe. As a small manufacturing economy it has to be, it relies on trade, transport links and labour from the rest of Europe. Similarly, as a small country it has to import footballers. Say hello to the new Swiss national squad.

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I don’t have any intention to live or work in Switzerland nevertheless I find it sad when a country restricts the right of people to work. and live where and how they want. Its especially galling as the areas with least migration voted most strongly to restrict it. I don’t know much about p values but I know a sloped line when I see one.

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There’s also a helpful map if that’s more you thing. The south of the country is Italian speaking and has lower (but still non-negligible) migrant populations. The west (Geneva) and north (Zurich) have lots of foreigners. Those with least experience with migrants voted to reimpose restrictions, those with the most experience voted to continue open European borders.

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A similar pattern reproduces itself in the UK. Areas with the fewest migrants are the most likely to wish to see it curtailed. Those with the most neighbours from another country were the least likely to want to see further migration curtailed. The same pattern prevails in the US. If you presume migration is a bad thing this is counterintuitive. If you presume it is a good thing this makes perfect sense. I do have a graph, since you ask, here it is.

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This isn’t just a historic thing, even in areas that saw the fastest change in the mid-2000s, the white british population were less likely to want to see immigration reduced. However, as you can see, less restrictionist is still quite restrictionist: more than half of the most sympathetic still want immigration reduced.

That’s from IPSOS-MORI’s excellent paper on perception and immigration. Enough meat there for everyone to find something of interest. Do stop reading my blog and download the pdf, I shan’t be offended. Bryan Caplan thinks more immigration is the answer to anti-migrant sentiment. Tyler Cowen thinks that plan has run its course. I’m not so sure.

A few tens of thousand swiss votes the other way and we would be having a different discussion. Until now Switzerland has been the most immigrant tolerant nation in the world – I don’t count Luxembourg, because, seriously, who does? It may have banned Minarets but it homes 300,000 Kosovan muslims.

Switzerland accepts an immigrant inflow equivalent to 1.5% of its population each year. The UK would have to accept double this number of gross migrants to even come close. Even with restrictions Switzerland is likely to accept levels of migration well above the rich country norm. Good for the Swiss. Three cheers for them, even now.

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