Highly Educated Immigrants and Native Occupational Choice




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    •  The authors’ affiliation are, respectively, Department of Economics, UC Davis, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA, 95616; Department of Economics, Colgate University, 13 Oak Drive, Hamilton, NY, 13346. E-mail: gperi@ucdavis.edu; (530) 554-2304. E-mail: csparber@mail.colgate.edu; (315) 228-7967. The authors would like to thank participants at the IZA Fifth Annual Migration Meeting (AM2) and members of the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM), University College London for their helpful comments. Peri gratefully acknowledges the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Program on Global Migration and Human Mobility for generously funding his research on immigration.


Economic debate about the consequences of immigration in the United States has largely focused on how influxes of foreign-born labor with little educational attainment have affected similarly educated native-born workers. Fewer studies analyze the effect of immigration within the market for highly educated labor. We use O*NET data on job characteristics to assess whether native-born workers with graduate degrees respond to an increased presence of highly educated foreign-born workers by choosing new occupations with different skill content. We find that highly educated native and foreign-born workers are imperfect substitutes. Immigrants with graduate degrees specialize in occupations demanding quantitative and analytical skills, whereas their native-born counterparts specialize in occupations requiring interactive and communication skills. When the foreign-born proportion of highly educated employment within an occupation rises, native employees with graduate degrees choose new occupations with less analytical and more communicative content.