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From Engineer to Taxi Driver? Language Proficiency and the Occupational Skills of Immigrants

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  • Imai, Susumu
  • Stacey, Derek
  • Warman, Casey

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 the 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Imai, Susumu & Stacey, Derek & Warman, Casey, 2018. "From Engineer to Taxi Driver? Language Proficiency and the Occupational Skills of Immigrants," GLO Discussion Paper Series 239, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:glodps:239
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    2. Aslan Zorlu, 2016. "Immigrants’ occupational mobility—Down and back up again," IZA World of Labor, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA), pages 290-290, August.
    3. 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.
    4. Hanna Wielandt, 2015. "Employment Polarization and Immigrant Employment Opportunities," SFB 649 Discussion Papers SFB649DP2015-025, Sonderforschungsbereich 649, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    occupational mobility; language proficiency; skills; tasks; human capital; immigration; field of study; Canada; point system; economic immigrants; entry class;

    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • J61 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers
    • J62 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Job, Occupational and Intergenerational Mobility; Promotion
    • J71 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination - - - Hiring and Firing
    • J80 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Standards - - - General

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