Switzerland: new study measures benefits of 2018 Geneva regularisation

Unsplash - Alin Andersen

This blogpost was written by Louise Cottrel Allué during her advocacy traineeship with PICUM.

From February 2017 to December 2018, public authorities in Geneva, Switzerland, launched a regularisation scheme called Operation Papyrus that enabled over 2,800 people to get a residence permit. Researchers from the University of Geneva explored the effects of the scheme on undocumented migrants in the region, in what is known as the Parchemins study. The researchers concluded that people’s living and health conditions significantly improved after they obtained a residence permit, though gender disparities and precarious situations persisted.

Few studies comprehensively assess the impact of regularisation schemes, making the Parchemins study particularly significant. 

The Parchemins study: purpose and methodology

The study is grounded in a survey of 468 people, although several bowed out before the end.The respondents were predominantly from South America and had lived in Geneva for an average of 12 years. Two thirds were women. Of these 468 people, around half were regularised, while the rest remained undocumented (control group). However, because the regularisation process itself took time (up to two years instead of the three months initially announced), there were in reality three groups of research subjects: undocumented people, people with a pending application (“in transition”), and regularised people.

Key findings of the study

Living conditions

Regularisation gave people freedom of movement, enabling them to finally see friends and family living in another country. People felt they could better participate in society, and have better access to rights and services. Globally, the respondents reported no negative effects.

Housing and finances

Regularised people could access better housing conditions and security, being able to sign a lease and be protected by the law as a renter. Their financial situation improved but remained precarious. The median income of regularised people increased slightly and passed from 34,000 to 35,400 Swiss francs per year (from approximately 35,000 to 37,000 euros per year). Women were found to live more often below the poverty line than men. Researchers also observed an increase in the number of people holding debts, because of new financial burdens due to their regularisation (health insurance, tax, etc.). For example, the improvement in housing conditions meant higher rents, which weighed heavily on household budgets.


Regularisation partially cushioned the negative effects of COVID-19 on people’s wellbeing (impact of lockdown, shutdown of certain economic activities…) and contributed to protecting people from job loss.

However, researchers observed that many people continued to experience precarious working conditions despite their regularisation. Moving to more secure and better-paid employment takes time: researchers found that it was too soon to observe significant changes in this area. That said, thanks to regularisation, many people had the opportunity to start training courses and improve skills and prospects for the future. Regularisation was for them a key step to address poverty.

Researchers also observed inequalities in working conditions between men and women: the majority of women continued working in domestic work, which is prone to harsh working conditions (irregular hours, low pay, limited public oversight over conditions). Their sector of employment made it very difficult for them to improve their working conditions, even after regularisation.


Regularised people gained access to health insurance and better access to healthcare and experienced an improvement of their mental health. Their physical health, however, had already been negatively affected by their precarious living conditions while being undocumented.

The long-lasting effect of living undocumented

Despite improvements in working and living conditions, regularised people continued to face challenges.

Firstly, they still endure the lasting effects of having lived without residence papers for a long time: they missed opportunities (their professional experience in their country of origin has not been recognised) and they could not improve language and other skills.

Secondly, the transition into a life as a regular resident also brings with it a new type of stress, as people need to readjust to their new lives in Geneva. Regularisation means that all areas of a person’s life change at the same time (family life, housing, employment, visits to family abroad, etc.). Regularly renewing one’s residence permit can also be a stress factor, since people risk becoming undocumented again.

The importance of time to assess the impact of regularisation

The researchers stress that conclusions must not be drawn too quickly. Even though the study covered five years (2017-2022), many people had only been regularised for much shorter periods, as they only obtained their permit in 2020 or 2021. It is likely that the next generation, the respondents’ children, will benefit even more from the regularisation than their parents. They will have access to higher education, which will enable them to qualify for better jobs and enjoy better living conditions.

Recommendations for the future

Drawing upon these results, the researchers developed several recommendations to tackle the remaining vulnerabilities of regularised migrants and to improve regularisation policies. Most notably, they call on public authorities to:  

Implement better-quality regularisation procedures. This includes providing undocumented people with better information and support on the administrative steps to be taken during and after regularisation.

Facilitate the inclusion of regularised people by anticipatingthe transition from undocumented to regularised. Authorities need to adapt administrative procedures to the specific needs of regularised residents, along with inclusive and protective labour policies. The renewal of the residence permit must also be easier and quicker, to relieve people from the stress of becoming undocumented again.

The Parchemins study shows that regularisation has a positive impact on migrants’ health and overall quality of life. More similar impact studies are needed to better understand the consequences of regularisation on people, their families and wider society.