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From engineer to taxi driver? Language proficiency and the occupational skills of immigrants

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  • Susumu Imai
  • Derek Stacey
  • Casey Warman

Abstract

We examine the ability of immigrants to transfer the occupational human capital they acquired prior to immigration. We first augment a model of occupational choice to study the implications of language proficiency on the cross‐border transferability of occupational human capital. We then explore the empirical predictions using information about the skill requirements from O*NET and a unique dataset that includes both the last source country occupation and the first four years of occupations in Canada. We supplement the analysis using Census estimates for the same cohort with source country occupational skill requirements predicted using detailed human capital related information such as field of study. We find that male immigrants to Canada were employed in source country occupations that typically require high levels of cognitive skills, but rely less intently on manual skills. Following immigration, they find initial employment in occupations that require the opposite. Consistent with the hypothesized asymmetric role of language in the transferability of previously acquired cognitive and manual skills, these discrepancies are larger among immigrants with limited language fluency. D’ingénieur à chauffeur de taxi? Les aptitudes linguistiques et les compétences professionnelles des immigrants. Dans cet article, nous avons étudié la capacité des immigrants à transférer leur capital humain professionnel développé avant leur immigration. Tout d’abord, nous avons élaboré un modèle augmenté de choix professionnels afin d’étudier l’incidence des aptitudes linguistiques sur la transférabilité transfrontalière du capital humain professionnel. Nous avons ensuite exploré les prévisions empiriques en utilisant les données du système O*NET ainsi qu’un ensemble de données uniques présentant à la fois le dernier poste occupé dans le pays de départ et les quatre premières années en emploi au Canada. Nous avons complété cette analyse en utilisant les estimations du recensement correspondant à cette même population afin d’évaluer les qualifications professionnelles requises dans le pays d’origine en tenant compte de diverses informations détaillées relatives au capital humain, notamment le domaine d’étude. Nous avons découvert que dans leur pays d’origine, les immigrants de sexe masculin au Canada étaient employés dans des domaines professionnels nécessitant habituellement des compétences cognitives de haut niveau et ne reposant pas sur des compétences manuelles. Suite à leur immigration, ils trouvent leur premier emploi dans des domaines professionnels nécessitant des compétences manuelles ne reposant pas sur des compétences cognitives. Conformément à l’hypothèse du rôle asymétrique de la langue dans la transférabilité des compétences manuelles et cognitives acquises avant l’immigration, ces différences sont plus importantes parmi les immigrants aux compétences linguistiques limitées.

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  • Susumu Imai & Derek Stacey & Casey Warman, 2019. "From engineer to taxi driver? Language proficiency and the occupational skills of immigrants," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 52(3), pages 914-953, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:canjec:v:52:y:2019:i:3:p:914-953
    DOI: 10.1111/caje.12396
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    Cited by:

    1. Rebecca Lessem & Carl Sanders, 2020. "Immigrant Wage Growth In The United States: The Role Of Occupational Upgrading," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 61(2), pages 941-972, May.
    2. Heinesen, Eskil & Imai, Susumu & Maruyama, Shiko, 2018. "Employment, job skills and occupational mobility of cancer survivors," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 151-175.
    3. Nick Manuel & Miana Plesca, 2020. "Skill transferability and the earnings of immigrants," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 53(4), pages 1404-1428, November.
    4. Audra J. Bowlus & Masashi Miyairi & Chris Robinson, 2016. "Immigrant job search assimilation in Canada," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 49(1), pages 5-51, February.
    5. Hanna Wielandt, 2015. "Employment Polarization and Immigrant Employment Opportunities," SFB 649 Discussion Papers SFB649DP2015-025, Sonderforschungsbereich 649, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany.
    6. Aslan Zorlu, 2016. "Immigrants’ occupational mobility—Down and back up again," IZA World of Labor, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA), pages 290-290, August.
    7. Angela Daley & Min Hu & Casey Warman, 2019. "Language proficiency and immigrants’ economic integration," IZA World of Labor, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA), pages 469-469, December.

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    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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