SUISSE news Winter 2017
Tourism | International Affairs | Switzerland-Canada Comparisons
January 2018

Which Country Has More Immigrants, Canada or Switzerland?

(Kurt Schl├Ąpfer)
Canada was and still is a nation of immigrants. While 40,300 Swiss citizens live in Canada and 147,000 Canadian citizens have Swiss ancestors, only 6,170 Canadian citizens reside in Switzerland. It could therefore be assumed that Canada has far more immigrants than Switzerland. However, if the number of immigrants is compared to the country's population, Switzerland has clearly more immigrants than Canada (since 1950, see diagram).

The annual number of landed immigrants in Canada has fluctuated considerably over the last 150 years. (The term "landed immigrant" is used in Canada for people who have been granted a permanent resident status.) Record numbers of immigrants were admitted in the early 1900s, when Canada was promoting the settlement of Western Canada. The highest number ever recorded was in 1913, when more than 400,000 immigrants arrived in the country. Between 1901 and 1911, migration accounted for 44% of population growth. Then, the number of people entering the country dropped dramatically during and between the two world wars. The lowest number was recorded in 1942 with less than 7600 landed immigrants. After the Second World War, a first record level of immigration has been registered in 1957, when – among other immigrants – 37,500 Hungarian refugees arrived in the country. Since 1990, the number of landed immigrants has remained relatively high with more than 200,000 new immigrants per year. Nearly 300,000 newcomers arrived in Canada in 2016, the highest number in 100 years. The immigrants came from over 190 countries, among them over 30,000 Syrian refugees. For a third year in a row, the Philippines and India were the top source countries of immigrants to Canada.

Prime Minister Trudeau tweeted on March 16, 2017:
"Regardless of who you are or where you come from, there’s always a place for you in Canada."
This tweet received 731,731 likes. 

Many Canadians see their country as a place where immigrants from diverse cultures are welcomed and supported. But not all Canadians share this view. On immigration, many Canadians prefer a policy where the economic prosperity is more important than the support of people fleeing from wars and conflicts. On multiculturalism, Canadians say they would prefer that minorities do more to integrate rather than emphasize their own cultural identity. 

At the end of the 19th century, Switzerland changed from a land of emigrants to one of immigrants. Still in the years 1881-1988, more than 10,000 persons emigrated every year, and this compared to a population of only 2.8 million. After the Second World War, companies in Switzerland began to recruit workers from Italy and other neighbouring countries to overcome shortages on the labour market. Ten years later, a first wave of refugees arrived from Hungary (1956). The number of asylum seekers reached record levels during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. In 2016, Eritrea was the top country of origin of asylum seekers.   

While a broad consensus in Switzerland is to help refugees, there is a widespread uneasiness with the high number of immigrants in general. Roughly a quarter of Switzerland’s inhabitants are foreigners. In fear of an uncontrollable rise of the foreign population, a citizen-initiated referendum (named "Against mass immigration") was launched with the aim of introducing immigration quotas. In February 2014, the referendum was approved with a thin majority, although it was clear that it violated the free movement agreement that Switzerland has with the European Union (EU). As the EU refused to accept the planned quotas, the Swiss parliament agreed, three years later, on a compromise which should limit the impact of foreign workers on the domestic job market. The first reaction of the EU appeared positive towards this solution. But “mass immigration” will continue to be an issue on the political table. 

Comparing Canada and Switzerland
There is no question that Switzerland has more immigrants than Canada. In 2016, Switzerland had more than twice as many immigrant arrivals per 1,000 inhabitants than Canada. As a consequence of the continued immigration, Switzerland has a foreign population of 24,9%. Canada has no statistics on the foreign population, but data on the foreign-born population. This also includes immigrants which have acquired Canadian citizenship in the meantime. But even this proportion is smaller at 20,6% than the percentage of foreign population in Switzerland.

SCCC Corporate Members
  • Habib Canadian Bank  (Subsidiary of Habib Bank AG Zurich)
  • Zurich Canada
  • Laderach (Canada) Inc.
  • Custom Spring Corporate
  • Rolex Canada Ltd.
  • Lette LLP
  • Swiss Business Hub
  • Roche Canada
  • Swissmar Ltd.
  • Swiss International Air Lines Ltd.
  • Endress + Hauser Canada Ltd
  • Hilti (Canada) Corporation
  • Switzerland Tourism
  • Mazars LLP
  • Canadian Tire Corporation
  • Lindt & Spruengli (Canada) Inc.
  • Adecco Employment Services Limited