Moving to Switzerland for work – is there still demand for expat employees?

Consistently ranking highly for economic competitiveness, governmental effectiveness and general quality of life, Switzerland is likely to feature near the top of most expats’ list of countries where they’d like to live and work. For many years expats have flocked to this landlocked European gem to reap the rewards of a career in the prosperous Swiss economy. In turn, Switzerland has relied on importing foreign workers to satisfy the demand for skilled employees and maintain such high levels of prosperity. Now, however, there are concerns that the range of opportunities for expats moving to Switzerland for work is diminishing.
According to the most recent OECD Economic Survey for Switzerland, while the country’s economy is resilient and stable, its growth is modest. Switzerland has a good employment rate and it is investing in training highly skilled workers. This investment in its own highly skilled workforce is likely to limit the number of opportunities for expatriates.
The result of a referendum held in 2014 – the federal popular initiative ‘against mass immigration’ – sought to limit the number of foreign workers in the country by imposing quotas. This decision was overturned in 2016 so that Switzerland could remain in the single market.
There are some compromises, however, to curb the level of immigration into the country. In many sectors, job vacancies must be advertised locally and locals are given priority before recruiting from abroad. The decision was unpopular with ultra-conservative parties, who are calling for a change in policy to control immigration. These headlines may seem to suggest that prospects for expats looking to work in Switzerland are bleak but, if you fit the right profile, demand for foreign employees is still strong.

Expat opportunities

Some industries in Switzerland are struggling to fill vacancies. In the last year, there has been a large jump in the number of jobs available. There are now more vacancies than there are jobseekers, which can be good news for expatriates with the right skills. There is a particular demand for electricians, medical staff and computing experts, as well as workers in the export sectors.
Most British expatriates will move to Switzerland through inter-company transfers. However, some will actively look for work in the country due to a keen interest in living there. It is easier to find work if you speak either German or French, though English is widely spoken. At the top end of businesses, there are higher numbers of openings for EU nationals.
Swiss companies are increasingly looking to foreign candidates to fill CEO roles. In 2016, reported the findings of a study conducted by PwC and Strategy& which found that the number of foreign CEO candidates at the largest Swiss companies has increased significantly in recent years.
The most recent Schilling Report concurs with this rise in international workers gaining high-level positions. Its data shows that in the private sector, the number of foreigners taking a position on executive boards or as senior managers has risen from 43% to 45%, while 65% of newly appointed executive board members are non-Swiss nationals.
Competition is fierce both within Swiss companies and the many multi-national corporations who have headquarters in the region. Popular industries for expat workers include banking and finance, pharmaceuticals, medical, biotechnology and research. There are also many international organisations, such as the United Nations and World Trade Organisation.
Despite potentially worrying headlines, job growth in Switzerland continues to rise upwards. It is still one of the best places for expatriates to relocate to for work purposes. In the 2017 HSBC Expat Explorer league table, the country ranks an impressive 7th for job security, 6th for career progression and 2nd for wage growth. Overall, it comes top of the table for Economics.
If you are considering or planning a relocation to Switzerland, please get in touch with Cadogan Tate to see how our services can help you with your move.