Temporary Admission in Switzerland: New Report

Over the summer I had the opportunity to examine the stays of temporarily admitted persons in Switzerland. Using individual register data (133 thousand individuals, 20 years), we provided rich descriptions of this particular population and examined how their stay develops over time. The report (in German) is now available from the Federal Commission on Migration FCM.

Temporarily admitted persons are rejected asylum seekers and other foreigners without a permit who cannot be deported. It is used to complement the Geneva Convention to provide protection to individuals in need, like in the case of civil war, ongoing situations of violence, because of non-refoulement, or for medical reasons. Conceived as a temporary solution, the individuals affected are still ordered to leave the country, and it does not constitute a legal permit.

Despite its name, many temporarily admitted persons remain in this precarious situation for many years. Indeed, the proportion of temporarily admitted persons who have stayed in Switzerland for a long period of time has been steadily increasing. This is a reflection of the fact that only a small minority of the temporarily admitted persons returns to the country of origin; 61 per cent sooner or later are accepted as a case of hardship and receive a residence permit. Despite this, a typical temporarily admitted person remains without such a status for around three years, although there are stark differences by country of origin.

You might also be interested in Roger Zetter‘s report on protecting forced migrants, published at the same time.

Illegalized Immigrants

What should we call people without a valid resident permit? Many refer to them as illegal immigrants. This is problematic as people aren’t illegal, their residence without a valid permit is. There are many — well-meant — alternative terms in use: irregular immigrants, undocumented, precarious, sans-papiers, etc.

A more recent addition is the term illegalized immigrants. It shifts the focus from the individual and the outcome to the process. In many situations this is desirable. Unfortunately, it leaves a question unanswered: “made illegal by whom?” The implication is that “the system” is to blame. That can be seen as marxist and importantly glosses over the fact that “the system” is made up of individuals and their actions.

The term deportable takes a somewhat different approach. It highlights the fact that people without a valid resident permit can be deported. Unfortunately it isn’t precise as it does not draw a difference between those who are under immediate threat of deportation, those for whom deportation is a real possibility, and those for whom deportation is a technical possibility (which includes immigrants with valid resident permits).

Deportability as a term seems to avoid the connotations the term illegalized immigrants has, namely that people without valid resident permits are disenfranchised and deprived of their rights. While they certainly do not enjoy the same rights as other residents, we should not forget that an immigrant threatened by deportation are very much part of society in that they have rights to education, rights to healthcare, rights to family, etc. They do not have the same rights, but they are protected by the constitution and basic rights granted.

What I like about the term illegalized immigrants is that it s immediately recognizable when you first come across it, and that it invites you to think a bit. It is no panacea as it lacks clarity. There does not appear to be a term to cover all situations, but then again we should always spell out what we mean rather than hide behind a vague term… people without a valid resident permit who are nonetheless resident…

Just How Diverse is the Immigrant Population

Statements that the immigrant population in Western Europe has not only increased but also become more diverse are very commonplace. There’s no apparent reason to doubt this, but just how diverse has the immigrant population become?

Here I use data from Switzerland (because I had them at hand) to quantify immigrant diversity. In the following I use the Herfindahl index to express diversity (available in my R package polrep), not taking into consideration that some groups should probably be considered more different than others. I approach diversity using nationality, and use the large world regions (continents) the Swiss statistical office provides: Europe, Africa, North America, Latin America, Asia, Australia/Oceania, stateless (or missing).

First, here is the foreign population of Switzerland since 1850 as context.


The diversity changed as follows:

So, yes, the immigrant population has become more diverse. To understand this change, we can look at the different groups of nationalities (continents). Here there are no constraints on the y-axis, allowing us to see relative changes.


This can be misleading in the sense that small changes can look like radical changes, so the same plot with the y-axis set to 0..1. This way the absolute impact is more visible, such as the continuing dominance of European immigrants.


Here’s another plot that illustrates that diversity and population size are not quite the same.


Most of the time, however, we’re concerned with more recent development, so here we zoom in, beginning with the overall diversity.


Here’s a look at the relative changes by group of nationality (continent):


And here the absolute changes:


Finally, here are three figures to illustrate that the population of asylum seekers has also become more diverse.


Focusing on relative changes by group of nationality (continents) we see significant peaks corresponding to events related to asylum seeking.


The absolute figures are perhaps more insightful:


All figures also on figshare.