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Immigration and Employer Transitions for STEM Workers


  • Sari Pekkala Kerr
  • William R. Kerr


The firm is almost entirely absent from models of immigration, and yet firms play a central role for high-skilled immigration. The H-1B visa program, for example, is a firm-sponsored entry where firms are responsible for every stage: from identifying the immigrant, to employing them, to filing for permanent residency on behalf of the immigrant. This central role of firms for high-skilled immigration suggests the traditional lens for evaluating the impact of immigration on natives through local area labor markets or national age-education approaches may miss important dynamics. We analyze the employment and wage trajectories of high-skilled workers born in America when a high-skilled immigrant arrives at their work site. We use linked employer-employee data during the 1995-2008 period from the Census Bureau for this exercise, which identifies the immigration status and country-of-birth of workers. We follow the subsequent career path of workers after high-skilled immigration occurs to the employee's work site both within firms (e.g., changes in employee salary, relocation to other sites) and across firms (e.g., movements to new jobs or out of workforce, long-term salary adjustments). The richness and depth of the Census Bureau data allow for multiple comparison points: selection on observables (e.g., age, tenure, salary levels and recent growth), varying immigration treatments across different work sites for the same firm for otherwise comparable employees, and (for a subset of cases and short time period at the end of our sample) randomization in H-1B admission lotteries.

Suggested Citation

  • Sari Pekkala Kerr & William R. Kerr, 2013. "Immigration and Employer Transitions for STEM Workers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(3), pages 193-197, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:103:y:2013:i:3:p:193-97 Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.103.3.193

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lam, David & Schoeni, Robert F, 1993. "Effects of Family Background on Earnings and Returns to Schooling: Evidence from Brazil," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(4), pages 710-740, August.
    2. Eric T. Stuen & Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak & Keith E. Maskus, 2012. "Skilled Immigration and Innovation: Evidence from Enrolment Fluctuations in US Doctoral Programmes," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 122(565), pages 1143-1176, December.
    3. George J. Borjas, 1995. "The Economic Benefits from Immigration," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(2), pages 3-22, Spring.
    4. Jennifer Hunt, 2011. "Which Immigrants Are Most Innovative and Entrepreneurial? Distinctions by Entry Visa," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 29(3), pages 417-457.
    5. Jones, Charles I, 1995. "R&D-Based Models of Economic Growth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(4), pages 759-784, August.
    6. Borjas, George J, 1987. "Self-Selection and the Earnings of Immigrants," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(4), pages 531-553, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Cristina Cattaneo & Carlo V. Fiorio & Giovanni Peri, 2015. "What Happens to the Careers of European Workers When Immigrants “Take Their Jobs”?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 50(3), pages 655-693.
    2. George J. Borjas & Kirk B. Doran, 2015. "Which Peers Matter? The Relative Impacts of Collaborators, Colleagues, and Competitors," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 97(5), pages 1104-1117, December.
    3. Fernandez-Zubieta, Ana & Geuna, Aldo & Lawson, Cornelia, 2015. "What do We Know of the Mobility of Research Scientists and of its Impact on Scientific Production," Department of Economics and Statistics Cognetti de Martiis. Working Papers 201522, University of Turin.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J44 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Professional Labor Markets and Occupations
    • J61 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers
    • O30 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - General


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