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IN NUMBERS: Who are Switzerland's cross-border workers who live in France?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
IN NUMBERS: Who are Switzerland's cross-border workers who live in France?
The "Leman Express" train brings many cross-border workers living in France into Switzerland.(Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Of more than 390,000 cross-border commuters who work in Switzerland, most (220,000) are resident in France. New statistics reveal who they are.


Most people who live in the Lake Geneva region (which incudes Geneva and Vaud), or in Jura and Basel — all of which border Switzerland — have undoubtedly crossed the path of these workers (called 'frontaliers' in French) — sometimes without even knowing it.

If you have ever wondered who these people are, where they come from, and why they work in Switzerland, new data from France's Union for the Recovery of Social Security Contributions and Family Allowances (Urssaf) provides the answers.

This is what the study reveals:

Mostly men

Among cross-border workers from France, 59 percent are men and 41 percent are women. 

Their average age ranges from 43.6 years for men and 43.9 years for women.

Overall, cross-border workers are around three years older than employees working in France.

Where in France do they live?

According to cross-border commuter treaties concluded between Switzerland and its neighbouring countries, these workers must live in 'border zones '— defined by by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) as the regions that are in close enough geographic proximity to the Swiss border to make daily commuting to and from work feasible.

For workers resident in France, this means they commute from three departments bordering Switzerland: 44 percent from Haute-Savoie, 19 percent from Doubs, and 15 percent from Haut-Rhin.

In some of parts of French border regions, more than two workers living there are employed in Switzerland. This is especially the case of those coming from areas closest to Geneva, such as Pays de Gex, where the share of frontaliers exceeds 60 percent.


What sectors do they work in?

Most are employed in healthcare, retail, as well as hotels and restaurants.

They also work in banking and finance, IT, telecommunications, biotechnology, and engineering.

Why do they make the daily trek across the border?

According to Urssaf, this is due to several factors. 

One is "the predominantly French-speaking nature of western Switzerland, relatively flexible Swiss labour laws, the existence of infrastructures facilitating daily travel between the two countries, but also, and above all, wages that are among the highest in the world."

In Switzerland, frontaliers can earn up to double the salary they would get in France for the same job. Also, taxes are lower in Switzerland than in France — so financial benefits are significant.

READ ALSO: Why French cross-border workers choose to work in Switzerland

However, this is a 'win-win' situation for both sides.

Switzerland benefits too, because it can fill vacancies in professions for which Swiss citizens or foreign permanent residents can’t be found.


How much do the frontaliers earn?

Based on Urssaf figures, male cross-border workers declare an average taxable income of €56,815 (53,452 francs) per year, while women's taxable income is lower — €47,098 euros (44,304 francs).

While these are not high wages for people in Switzerland, the cost of living in France is lower, so this money goes much further.

What else is there to know about the frontaliers?

Unlike foreign nationals who live in Switzerland under a B or C permit, cross-border workers are eligible for a G permit only.

This is how it works:

Once a cross-border worker finds a job in Switzerland, the employer will apply for this permit at the canton where they will be working.

Most cross-border workers typically commute to and from work on daily basis, but they must return to their main place of residence abroad at least once a week.

The G-permit is valid five years, unless it’s a temporary contract in which case it is valid only for the duration of employment. The permits are limited only to the issuing cantons.

A cross-border permit does not grant access to permanent residence  (B or C permit), or to Swiss citizenship. 

These rules apply to all cross-border commuters (from Germany, Italy, and Austria) as well.

READ ALSO: Who can work in Switzerland but live in a neighbouring country?



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