Call for Papers: Migrants’ skills wastage in the labor market: a multidisciplinary approach for policy formation

The call for our special issue on brain waste is now official:

Deadline for submissions is 31 July 2022

The topic of migrants’ skills wastage has generated a sizable but scattered body of research spanning economics, demography, sociology, law, and other social sciences over the past few years (Griesshaber and Seibel 2015; Flisi et al. 2017; Leuven and Oosterbek 2011; Pecoraro 2014; Capsada-Munsech 2017; Klink 2008; Zhou et al. 2016). While the topic is interdisciplinary by nature, recent work has been disciplinary, generating field-specific hypotheses, data, methods and applications, to the detriment of interdisciplinary links and policy debate. The risk of continuing on the current trend is that specialist disciplinary lines will not only progressively depleting the benefit of informing and generating new knowledge by studying an effectively interdisciplinary phenomenon but generate policy recommendations that only cater for a partial aspect of the problem. In an extreme scenario, they risk becoming irrelevant.

The objective of this special issue is to produce a reference resource which consolidates the existing research body, summarises key insights across several disciplines, and provide a firm foundation for continued interdisciplinary dialogue aimed at unifying knowledge for policy debate and policy formulation.

Specifically with this call for papers, we seek to consolidate research findings from different disciplines on migrants’ skills wastage. This includes the study of topics such as over-education, the international transferability of human capital, statistical or outright discrimination in the labour market and within firms, migration policy, and methodological approaches addressing the self-selection that characterises the choice to migrate and enter the labour market of the host country.

At the same time, we seek novel approaches that unite different perspectives and allow a continuation of interdisciplinary research on the topic, with the objective of providing clear information for policy use. Examples could include, but no be limited to, topics such as the spatial dimensions associated with the under-use of human capital, inter-generational and household effects of experiencing skills under-use (especially educational choices of children whose parents experience skills mismatches), the development of new databases, methodologies or variables, and migration policy considerations from both sending and receiving countries with across regions within a country.

Submission portal: Submission deadline: July 31, 2022

Zhiming Cheng
Wei Guo
Marco Pecoraro
Didier Ruedin
Massimiliano Tani

The impact of Covid-19 on Migration and Transnationalism

Roxanne Gerber and Philippe Wanner have nicely summarized the impact of the first wave of Covid-19 on the Swiss migrant population.

  • effect on labour-market participation similar to general population
  • greater difficulties by entrepreneurs and self-employed
  • greater impact on low-skilled workers
  • international mobility (unsurprisingly) down a great deal — more than twice as many as in 2018 never (could) visit their country of origin

Skill Specificity and Attitudes toward Immigration

I am very happy to announce a second paper published from our SNIS project on attitudes to immigrants: “Skill Specificity and Attitudes toward Immigration” by Sergi Pardos-Prado and Carla Xena out now in AJPS. It develops some of the key tenets of the SNIS project to new levels and provides a clean application.

Similar to what Marco Pecoraro concluded when looking at the risk of unemployment, Sergi and Carla come to the conclusion that economic competition theories cannot be dismissed. Here they focus on skills specificity and the ability to avoid competition with immigrant workers, and highlight that highly educated people are not immune to anti-immigrant attitudes.

Pardos‐Prado, S., & Xena, C. (2018.). Skill Specificity and Attitudes toward Immigration. American Journal of Political Science, Online First.
Pecoraro, M., & Ruedin, D. (2016). A Foreigner Who Does Not Steal My Job: The Role of Unemployment Risk and Values in Attitudes toward Equal Opportunities. International Migration Review, 50(3), 628–666.

Most important academic skill? English!

The other day I was reviewing a paper that looked quite interesting, but unfortunately was written in such poor English that I could not really understand what was going on. I felt sorry for the author(s). I then recalled a recent discussion with a colleague of mine about how important so-called transferable skills are for students: We know that most of them won’t end up in academia, so stuff like critical thinking, structuring an argument, or reading a regression table a are pretty important. Among these, coherent and comprehensible English must rank very high. For those who stay in academia, I’d argue that it’s the most important skill, because it’s central to communicating with other researchers and having your work understood. Only this way can others build on what we do. Ironically, however, teaching English is typically not a focus at universities, if it is done at all. Like so many things, we just kind of assume students (have to figure out how to) do it.

Image: CC-by-nc Moiggi Interactive

Education and Attitudes — Not So Fast

It’s a very common finding that people with higher levels of formal education are less prejudiced — as captured by their answers in surveys. So common is this assumption that it has almost become an informal benchmark for studies on attitudes to immigrants and other minority groups. If you don’t find an association between levels of formal education and lower prejudice, some will doubt your data or analysis.

There are, however, reasons to doubt that this association is the end of the story. First of all, levels of formal education are not a well specified mechanism. In our IMR article, Marco Pecoraro and I write:

While an association between low levels of education and negative sentiments toward immigrants can be found across countries, the underlying mechanism remains poorly specified.

Most studies use education as a proxy of skills levels, which is a very narrow definition of human capital when we consider the possible competition between citizens and foreigners in the labour market. In our study, we addressed this by using skill levels:

Using these more sophisticated measures of exposure to market competition, we find no evidence that – once values and beliefs are accounted for – workers with low levels of education a priori have more negative attitudes toward foreigners than those with upper secondary education.

A simple reason may be that levels of formal education capture social desirability. An (2014) argues that the relationship between education and attitudes/prejudice is largely driven by social desirability, but others contest this (e.g. Ostapczuk et al. 2009).

There have long been reasons to think more carefully about the relationship between education and prejudice — beyond the lack of a clearly specified mechanism. For instance, Jackman (1978) showed that higher education is associated with being more tolerant on an abstract index, but not on an applied index. Studying support for minority rights in referendums and popular initiatives, Vatter et al. (2014) highlight that the ‘effect’ of education depends on the minority group considered. Similarly, Bansak et al. (2016) show that preferences for certain groups of asylum seekers are the same across levels of education. A quite different challenge came from Weil (1985) who showed that the association is weaker or altogether absent in non-liberal countries — if we want to speak of an ‘effect’, it does not appear to be universal. That’s exactly what we have seen in recent years as prejudice and attitudes to minorities are increasingly studied outside Western Europe and North America.

For instance, Bahry (2016) did not find a clear association between levels of formal education and negative attitudes to foreigners in Russia (but Bessudnov 2016 did). Diop et al. studied the situation in Qatar and found no association to speak of; Barceló 2016 reports no clear association in Asia. Gordon (2016) reports that higher levels of education mean being less stereotyped in South Africa, but that there is no difference in the opposition to refugees; while Gordon (2015) highlights that xenophobia crosses the class divide in South Africa. Kunovich (2004) finds weaker ‘effects’ of education in Eastern Europe compared to Western Europe, while Dennison & Talò (2017) find no direct ‘effect’ in France — right in Western Europe.

One interpretation of education affecting attitudes to foreigners is the liberalizing effect of education. Most studies use cross-sectional data, so they are in a poor situation to test this. Hello (2002) cast some doubt on this interpretation by showing that the ‘effect’ of education seems to vary across countries. More directly, however, Lancee & Sarrasin (2015) used panel data to follow individuals through education, and they find ‘no effect’ when only modelling within-subject variation: Attitudes change little through education.

So we’ve certainly not seen the end of the story yet.


An, Brian P. 2015. ‘The Role of Social Desirability Bias and Racial/Ethnic Composition on the Relation between Education and Attitude toward Immigration Restrictionism’. The Social Science Journal 52 (4): 459–67. doi:10.1016/j.soscij.2014.09.005.

Bahry, Donna. 2016. ‘Opposition to Immigration, Economic Insecurity and Individual Values: Evidence from Russia’. Europe-Asia Studies 68 (5): 893–916. doi:10.1080/09668136.2016.1178710.

Bansak, Kirk, Jens Hainmueller, and Dominik Hangartner. 2016. ‘How Economic, Humanitarian, and Religious Concerns Shape European Attitudes toward Asylum Seekers’. Science 354 (6309): 217–22. doi:10.1126/science.aag2147.

Barceló, Joan. 2016. ‘Attitudes toward Immigrants and Immigration Policy in Asia and the Pacific: A Quantitative Assessment of Current Theoretical Models beyond Western Countries’. Asian Journal of Political Science 24 (1): 87–123. doi:10.1080/02185377.2015.1136228.

Bessudnov, Alexey. 2016. ‘Ethnic Hierarchy and Public Attitudes towards Immigrants in Russia’. European Sociological Review 32 (5): 567–80. doi:10.1093/esr/jcw002.

Dennison, James, and Teresa Talò. 2017. ‘Explaining Attitudes to Immigration in France’. Working Paper.

Diop, Abdoulaye, Yaojun Li, Majed Mohammmed H. A. Al-Ansari, and Kien T. Le. 2017. ‘Social Capital and Citizens’ Attitudes towards Migrant Workers’. Social Inclusion 5 (1): 66–79. doi:10.17645/si.v5i1.798.

Gordon, Steven Lawrence. 2015. ‘Xenophobia across the Class Divide: South African Attitudes towards Foreigners 2003–2012’. Journal of Contemporary African Studies 33 (4): 494–509. doi:10.1080/02589001.2015.1122870.

———. 2016. ‘Welcoming Refugees in the Rainbow Nation: Contemporary Attitudes towards Refugees in South Africa’. African Geographical Review 35 (1): 1–17. doi:10.1080/19376812.2014.933705.

Hello, Evelyn, Peer Scheepers, and Merove Gijsberts. 2002. ‘Education and Ethnic Prejudice in Europe: Explanations for Cross-National Variances in the Educational Effect on Ethnic Prejudice’. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research 46 (1): 5–24.

Jackman, Mary R. 1978. ‘General and Applied Tolerance: Does Education Increase Commitment to Racial Integration?’ American Journal of Political Science 22 (2): 302–324.

Kunovich, Robert M. 2004. ‘Social Structural Position and Prejudice: An Exploration of Cross-National Differences in Regression Slopes’. Social Science Research 33 (1): 20–44. doi:10.1016/S0049-089X(03)00037-1.

Lancee, Bram, and Oriane Sarrasin. 2015. ‘Educated Preferences or Selection Effects? A Longitudinal Analysis of the Impact of Educational Attainment on Attitudes Towards Immigrants’. European Sociological Review, March, jcv008. doi:10.1093/esr/jcv008.

Ostapczuk, Martin, Jochen Musch, and Morten Moshagen. 2009. ‘A Randomized-Response Investigation of the Education Effect in Attitudes towards Foreigners’. European Journal of Social Psychology 39 (6): 920–931.

Pecoraro, Marco, and Didier Ruedin. 2016. ‘A Foreigner Who Does Not Steal My Job: The Role of Unemployment Risk and Values in Attitudes toward Equal Opportunities’. International Migration Review 50 (3): 628–66. doi:10.1111/imre.12162.

Vatter, Adrian, Isabelle Stadelmann-Steffen, and Deniz Danaci. 2014. ‘Who Supports Minority Rights in Popular Votes? Empirical Evidence from Switzerland’. Electoral Studies 36 (December): 1–14. doi:10.1016/j.electstud.2014.06.008.

Weil, Frederick D. 1985. ‘The Variable Effects of Education on Liberal Attitudes: A Comparative- Historical Analysis of Anti-Semitism Using Public Opinion Survey Data’. American Sociological Review 50 (4): 458–74. doi:10.2307/2095433.

Image: CC-by-nc More Good Foundation