Migration partnerships

Background to migration partnerships

Recent years have seen a marked change in international migration. As a result of increased mobility and better access to information and means of communication, migration has become more diversified and globalised. Even if the causes of migration – poverty, wars, violations of human rights, economic crises and climate change – have remained fundamentally unchanged, their extent and interconnections have made the situation far more complex. While this undoubtedly offers Switzerland new opportunities, it also raises a number of fresh challenges. In order to respond to these opportunities and challenges and to achieve the synergies between the various stakeholders in migration policy, Switzerland created the instrument of migration partnerships. The objective of migration partnerships is to adopt a comprehensive, global approach to migration while taking account of Switzerland’s own interests, those of the partner country and those of the migrants themselves (a “win-win-win” approach).

Principle and content

The principle of migration partnerships is anchored in Art. 100 of the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals, which gives the Federal Council the task of encouraging bilateral and multilateral partnerships with other States in the area of migration. Migration partnerships form the framework for different instruments of Switzerland’s migration foreign policy, such as readmission agreements or capacity-building projects. They are normally formalised by means of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Such MoUs were signed in April 2009 with Bosnia and Herzegovina, in June 2009 with Serbia, in February 2010 with Kosovo, in February 2011 with Nigeria, in June 2012 with Tunisia and in August 2018 with Sri Lanka. Bilateral meetings are generally held every six months and, at regular intervals between these, the interdepartmental committees for implementation meet in Bern. These committees coordinate the various tasks and activities, develop strategies and set the annual objectives.

The content of a migration partnership is flexible and will vary from one country to the next, since it reflects that country’s particular context and the different interests of the specific partners. Apart from the more traditional themes of readmission, return assistance, visa policy and the prevention of human trafficking, other issues regarding the synergies between migration and development and also migrants’ human rights have also become standard elements of migration partnerships today.


The leading actors in the conclusion of migration partnerships are the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) of the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP) and the Human Security Division (HSD) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA).

On 14 December 2012, at the request of the Federal Council, the National Council accepted the Amarelle postulate (12.3858; Migration partnerships. Control and evaluations), which calls for an evaluation of Switzerland’s migration partnerships. With a view to commissioning an independent assessment of this relatively new instrument, the interdepartmental Committee for International Cooperation on Migration ruled in autumn 2013 in favour of implementing an external evaluation. Following an invitation to tender, the mandate for performing the external evaluation was awarded to the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance (MGSoG), which focused its bid on a qualitative evaluation of interviews and documentation.

The overall findings of the external evaluation were positive in regard to the impact and added value of migration partnerships. The results of the external evaluation confirm that migration partnerships are an appropriate instrument for intensifying our cooperation with countries of origin and transit while striking a balance between the different interests of all those involved. The report concludes that migration partnerships are based on a relatively even balance of power between Switzerland and its partner countries. Moreover, the evaluators regard the improved cooperation between the various federal agencies and the resulting policy in migration matters as one of the most important achievements. Overall, the added value of migration partnerships in comparison with other approaches in bilateral migration cooperation can be summarised in five points:

  1. They cover a wide range of subjects;
  2. They formalise and legitimise long-term cooperation;
  3. They are based on reciprocity;
  4. They are flexible and create a network of relationships based on trust, which can be mobilised at any time in the event of any problems; and
  5. They focus on taking a long-term, holistic approach to finding solutions.

However, the evaluation also revealed considerable discrepancies in how different groups perceive the impacts of migration partnerships. Among the general public, there tends to be the expectation that a migration partnership has a direct impact on the numbers of asylum seekers, or on the level of irregular migration in Switzerland and the number of migrants returning to their countries of origin. The report on the external evaluation, however, conforms that no such causal relationship can be proven. On the other hand, the evaluation clearly indicates that cooperation in the context of a migration partnership ensures a smoother execution of procedures, particularly in regard to returns. The operational relationships formalised by a migration partnership are particularly effective in regard to returns, and initial trends show that migration partnerships can, in the long term, lower the number of cases pending enforcement.

Signed partnerships

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