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International Emigrant Selection on Occupational Skills

CID Research Fellow & Graduate Student Working Paper No. 84

Alexander Patt, Jens Ruhose, Simon Wiederhold, and Miguel Flores
June 2017


We present the first evidence that international emigrant selection on education and earnings materializes through occupational skills. Combining novel data from a representative Mexican task survey with rich individual-level worker data, we find that Mexican migrants to the United States have higher manual skills and lower cognitive skills than non-migrants. Conditional on occupational skills, education and earnings no longer predict migration decisions. Differential labor-market returns to occupational skills explain the observed selection pattern and significantly outperform previously used returns-to-skills measures in predicting migration. Results are persistent over time and hold within narrowly defined regional, sectoral, and occupational labor markets.

JEL codes: F22, O15, J61, J24

Affiliated Program: Growth Lab