The Swiss vote for immigration curbs: how much immigration is possible without a backlash?

Here is the news:

A narrow majority of voters in Switzerland on Sunday approved proposals that would reintroduce restrictions on the number of foreigners who are allowed to live and work in the country, a move that could have far-reaching implications for Switzerland’s relations with the European Union.

You will note:

Switzerland, which is not part of the European Union, has one of the highest proportions of foreigners in Europe, accounting for about 27 percent of the country’s population of about eight million.

In my view immigration has gone well for Switzerland, both economically and culturally, and I am sorry to see this happen, even apart from the fact that it may cause a crisis in their relations with the European Union.  That said, you can take 27% as a kind of benchmark for the limits of immigration in most or all of today’s wealthy countries.  I believe that as you approach a number in that range, you get a backlash.

That number will be higher when there is a frontier or a shortage of labor.  Those conditions do not generally hold in today’s wealthy countries.  Adam Ozimek reproduces data on immigration as a flow and stock relative to citizens, and as a stock Switzerland was third highest in the world with Luxembourg at over 32% and Israel over 27%.  I would say Israel does not count as their flows are largely a religious/ethnic unification from the former Soviet Union, in part with the purpose of protecting them against other potential population flows, to put it diplomatically.

The United States is 12th on the list with 12.1% foreign-born.  Referring to the flow of immigrants, Adam notes:

Instead of 1 million immigrants a year, these numbers suggest we could be letting in as many as 3 million a year and we would still not rank in the top 5.

And there I think you have the relevant range for what a more liberal immigration policy would look like or could look like.  I wonder by the way if for some reason small countries have an easier time swallowing high levels of migration, politically or culturally speaking, than do big countries.  That’s counterintuitive, but it’s what Adam’s tables seem to be suggesting.  (Is it because the small country is more culturally unified and thus somehow more secure?)  If you look at the top twelve countries in terms of receiving a flow of immigrants, only Spain is significantly above the 20 million population mark, with countries such as Iceland, Ireland, and New Zealand prominent (and I suspect a more recent measurement would boot Spain off this list altogether).  That would narrow the range of potential immigration increases even further for the United States.

One of my objections to the open borders idea is that I think it would be negative for sustainable, actually realized flows of immigration.

Addendum: Here is the distribution of voting across Switzerland, the Italian section was most anti-immigrant.  Here is Rachman on why the Swiss should not be punished.  Here is an excellent detailed analysis by Dennis MacShane.  Overall I see this as a broader political earthquake which will spread throughout Europe.


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