The Changing Skill of New Immigrants to the United States

Recent Trends and Their Determinants

Published in: Issues in the Economics of Immigration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 185-225

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 1999

by Guillermina Jasso, Mark R. Rosenzweig, James P. Smith

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The objective of this paper is to describe and understand the determinants of changes in the number and quality of new legal immigrants to the United States over the last 25 years. The authors' main interest is in understanding the behavioral response of potential immigrants to changes in the U.S. immigration law regime (as well as in the origin-country determinants of demand for immigration to the United States) and how these affect and have affected the skill composition of immigrants. They assembled a new data set based on annual INS records of all new, legal immigrants over the period 1972 through 1995. Inspection of the authors' new data indicates that since the mid 1980s the average skill of new, U.S. legal immigrants has been rising relative to that of the U.S. population. An econometric analysis of a panel of country-specific measures of the skill of immigrants based on these data over the period 1972-1992 indicates that these changes are due in part to changes in immigration law and to the overall rise in the real purchasing power of countries outside the United States.

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