Date of Award

August 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Scott Drewianka

Committee Members

Scott Adams, John Heywood, Hamid Mohtadi


English Fluency, Job Shopping, Refugees, Schooling, Selection


Human capital is an important mechanism that influences both the migration decisions of immigrants and the rate at which immigrants assimilate in the host country. Returns to human capital could be correlated with difficult-to-observe factors such as self-selection, and legal status, and these unobservables can affect the economic assimilation of immigrants into the host country differently. The objective of this dissertation is to investigate the returns to human capital for refugees and other immigrants during the first two decades after they come to the U.S. Refugees are a subset of immigrants who have different characteristics and face different constraints than other immigrants. For example, while refugees have greater legal access to the labor market, non-refugees benefit from greater ability to self-select into both migration and (pre-migration) human capital, and those relative advantages change during the years after individuals migrate.

The empirical results show that non-refugees receive a much larger crude wage return for human capital both at arrival and over time. Although the refugees’ return grows over time, they do not catch up with that of non-refugees. These findings confirm that non-refugees are not only selected on observable characteristics (as already documented in the literature) but on unobservables as well, and that the initial selection on unobservables will matter for their differential returns to human capital even after they remain a long time in the U.S. In other words, many refugees might not be well-suited for the U.S. labor market for some permanent but unobservable reasons, whereas this may not be the case for non-refugees because they would less likely move to a country for which they are poorly-suited.