Daniel Auer
Language roulette – the effect of random placement on refugees’ labour market integration

Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 2018: 44, issue 3, pp. 341-362
ISSN: 1369-183X (print), 1469-9451 (online)

Placement of refugees and subsequent labour market integration within a host country represents a key challenge for policymakers and has emerged as one of the most divisive topics in the public debate. Immigration policy in Switzerland adopts random placement of asylum seekers across its different language regions. Hence, this policy allows to estimate the causal effect of language skills on employment chances, as refugees are exogenously placed across regions where the spoken language could either match or deviate from individual language skills. The results of this ‘natural experiment’ indicate substantially higher probabilities of finding employment when asylum seekers are placed in regions with a lingua franca that matches their individual language skills. Additionally, the findings suggest that language course participation can offset the reduced likelihood of employment in cases of a language mismatch. While random placement of refugees may be desirable for political reasons, it is detrimental to the economic integration process. Thereby, the study draws relevant conclusions for a larger European immigration policy.