DP4156 | Self-Selection of Migrant Workers: Migration Premium and (no) Returns to Skills

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23/12/2003

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Abstract

Why do low-skilled workers choose to work in a foreign economy and what determines their wages? The Paper empirically implements the Roy self-selection model to study this question. It does so using a unique dataset on Palestinian workers working locally and in the Israeli economy. The data permit examination of both migrants and non-migrants on a comparable basis and are used to construct the relevant wage equations. The results show that key determinants of self-selection are a substantial migration premium, which lures migrant workers, and very low returns to observable skills in the foreign economy, which deter skilled workers. While the literature has found negative self-selection elsewhere, direct estimation of the relevant second moments - crucial for the determination of self selection - shows that the same findings can be re-interpreted. In particular, we find positive self-selection, leading to a reduction in wage inequality and to worker assignment such that wages are equalized across workers employed in the source and in the host economies. Correcting for selection bias demonstrates that estimates of skill premia for migrants - an important issue in the immigration literature - are upwardly biased if selection is not accounted for.