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How immigrants helped EU labor markets to adjust during the Great Recession

Martin Kahanec (School of Public Policy, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary)
Martin Guzi (Department of Public Economics, Faculty of Economics and Administration, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic)

International Journal of Manpower

ISSN: 0143-7720

Article publication date: 2 October 2017




The economic literature starting with Borjas (2001) suggests that immigrants are more flexible than natives in responding to changing sectoral, occupational and spatial shortages in the labor market. The purpose of this paper is to study the relative responsiveness to labor shortages by immigrants from various origins, skills and tenure in the country vis-à-vis the natives, and how it varied over the business cycle during the Great Recession.


Using data primarily from the EU Labor Force Survey and the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions, the authors calculate a wage-based measure of labor shortages in the first stage while in the second stage the authors use them in a first-differences fixed-effects model as a regressor to explain changes in immigrants’ distribution across sectors, occupations and countries vis-à-vis the natives.


The authors show that immigrants have responded to changing labor shortages across EU member states, occupations and sectors at least as much and in many cases more flexibly than natives. This effect is especially significant for low-skilled immigrants from the new member states or with the medium number of years since migration, as well as with high-skilled immigrants with relatively few (one to five) or many (11+) years since migration. The relative responsiveness of some immigrant groups declined during the crisis years (those from Europe outside the EU or with 11 or more years since migration), whereas other groups of immigrants became particularly fluid during the Great Recession, such as those from new member states.

Research limitations/implications

The results suggest that immigrants may play an important role in labor adjustment during times of asymmetric economic shocks, and support the case for well-designed immigration policy and free movement of workers within the EU. Some limitations include alternative interpretations of the wage premium as our measure of shortage, as well as possible endogeneity of this measure in the model.


The results provide new insights into the functioning of the European Single Market and the roles various immigrant groups play for its stabilization through labor adjustment during the times of uneven economic development across sectors, occupations and countries.



Martin Guzi is grateful for the support from the Czech Science Foundation grant no. 15-17810S. Martin Kahanec acknowledges the financial support of the Eduworks Marie Curie Initial Training Network Project (PITN-GA-2013-608311) of the European Commission’s 7th Framework Program. This paper reflects the views of the authors only; the European Commission or any other funding agency or consortium partner cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.


Kahanec, M. and Guzi, M. (2017), "How immigrants helped EU labor markets to adjust during the Great Recession", International Journal of Manpower, Vol. 38 No. 7, pp. 996-1015.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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