March 2004

IZA DP No. 1063: Are Refugees Different from Economic Immigrants? Some Empirical Evidence on the Heterogeneity of Immigrant Groups in the United States

published in: The Review of Economics and Statistics, 2004, 86(2): 465-480

This paper analyzes how the implicit difference in time horizons between refugees and economic immigrants affects subsequent human capital investments and wage assimilation. The analysis uses the 1980/1990 Integrated Public Use Samples of the Census to study labor market outcomes of immigrants who arrived in the U.S. from 1975 to 1980. I find that in 1980 refugee immigrants in this cohort earned 6 percent less and worked 14 percent fewer hours than economic immigrants. Both had about the same level of English skills. The two immigrant groups had made substantial gains by 1990; however, refugees had made greater gains. In fact, the labor market outcomes of refugee immigrants surpassed those of economic immigrants. In 1990, refugees from the 1975-1980 arrival cohort earned 20 percent more, worked 4 percent more hours, and improved their English skills by 11 percent relative to economic immigrants. The higher rates of human capital accumulation for refugee immigrants contribute to these findings.