Is life better in Geneva or Lausanne

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The big Swiss cities are becoming more and more international. They are among the most cosmopolitan in the world. The proportion of foreigners is highest in Geneva, ahead of Lausanne, Basel, Zurich and Bern.

This content was published on April 18, 2019 - 10:00 am

As a journalist based in Bern, I am particularly interested in social issues, but also in politics and social media. Before that, I worked for regional media, on the editorial offices of the Journal du Jura and Radio Jura Bernois.

More about the author | French-speaking editorial team

Katy Romy and Alexandra Kohler

One fifth of all foreigners in Switzerland live in cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants. In the largest Swiss cities - Zurich, Basel, Geneva, Lausanne and Bern - at least one or one in four comes from abroad.

Compared with the other cities, Bern has the fewest people without a Swiss passport. The proportion of people from abroad has risen in the five largest Swiss cities since 1990.

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The proportion of foreigners is increasing in the five largest Swiss cities, with the exception of Bern

In an international comparison, the large Swiss cities are among the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. "Switzerland is a large immigration country, despite its rather restrictive policy in this area," says Etienne PiguetExterner Link, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Neuch√Ętel and Vice President of the Federal Migration Commission.

The economic dynamism in particular attracts foreigners, says Piguet. But not only internationally active companies attract people from all over the world, but also the opening of a city to the world.

If you take a closer look at Geneva, Lausanne, Basel and Zurich, it becomes clear that, depending on the city, there are other reasons for foreigners to move there.

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Geneva has the largest proportion of foreigners among the five largest cities in Switzerland

Geneva - the city of the United Nations

Geneva is the Swiss city with the highest proportion of foreigners. Almost half of the population (2018: 47.8%) do not have a Swiss passport.

Piguet estimates that the city of the Rhone is without a doubt the most cosmopolitan city in the country, thanks to the presence of the United Nations (UN) and numerous international organizations.

Lausanne - the Olympic capital

The foreign resident population in Lausanne has increased sharply over the past three decades. In 1990 the share was 31%, in 2018 it increased to 43%. With this rapid development, the capital of the canton of Vaud is getting closer to its neighbor Geneva. "We're seeing an effect similar to that in Geneva, but for different reasons," says Piguet.

In Lausanne, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), international sports federations and internationally renowned universities such as the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) attract people from all over the world.

In addition, numerous international companies have established their offices on the shores of Lake Geneva, which also contributes to internationalization.

Basel - the pharmaceutical city

In Basel, the proportion of foreigners has increased the most since 1990 compared to the other cities: In 2018, 37.5% of the population were without a Swiss passport, compared to only 24% in 1990. As in the other cities, the labor market in Basel is the major driver of migration from abroad. The large global pharmaceutical companies attract workers from all over the world.

In a direct comparison with Zurich, it is noticeable that since 2000 there have been proportionally more foreigners in Basel than in the city on the Limmat.

What can that be? One reason could be the housing situation: In Zurich, just 0.2% of all apartments were vacant in 2018. It is therefore a lot more difficult to find an apartment there than in Basel, according to Patrick KochExterner Link from the canton of Basel-Stadt.

The vacancy rate in Basel has increased slightly in recent years, from 0.3 to 0.7%. Basel is also more attractive than Zurich when it comes to prices: rents are much lower here.

Zurich - the economic metropolis

Zurich is a magnet - mainly thanks to international companies, for example in the finance and banking sector. The largest Swiss city is one of the most important financial centers in the world.

But the life science industry, the rapidly growing creative economy, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH) and the University of Zurich also attract many employees from abroad.

In recent years it has become easier to find a job in Zurich than it was in the 1990s. In the IT industry, in social affairs, but also in services and science, many new jobs have been created in the past 20 years.

Bern - the city of civil servants

Only the federal city of Bern shows a different development than in the other major Swiss cities: just under a quarter of the population does not have a Swiss passport - a very low figure compared to other cities. In 2017, it was even slightly lower than the value for the whole of Switzerland. The proportion of foreigners in Bern has even declined slightly since 2016.

According to the Bern city administration, the economic structure is very different from that in Zurich, Basel or Geneva. On the one hand, there are few internationally active companies that normally attract foreigners, according to Susanne RebsamenExterner Link from the municipal competence center for integration.

On the other hand, Bern used to have fewer jobs in the industrial sector, which - like Basel, for example - attracted a particularly large number of foreign workers. You can tell to this day. In addition, a large part of the public administration is based in Bern - here foreigners are underrepresented among the employees.

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