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Native and Immigrant School-to-Work Transitions: Refocusing Policy Concerns

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The continual increase of foreign-born among youth, particularly among those who leave school and enter into the workforce, raises issues concerning the particular school-to-work paths immigrants follow as well as the different constraints and trade-offs immigrants face. By examining the joint employment and schooling patterns of both immigrants and natives during their initial six years after high school, this research shows that immigrants do in fact follow different school-to-work paths than natives. Although immigrants, who initially leave school as high school graduates or with some post-secondary education, spend less time accumulating early work experience, they do not spend this time unproductively. Immigrant youth instead spend more time attending post-secondary school. The patterns observed for immigrant youth are found to depend on immigrants' years in the United States and country of origin. These unique schooling and employment patterns continue to hold after correcting for individual and family characteristics. Moreover, previous analyses have examined the school-to-work transition by race and ethnicity, but pooled immigrants and natives. This analysis shows that for Asians, blacks, and Hispanics immigrants and natives are different and thereby provides a more focused picture of differences by race for natives as well as immigrants. In general, the differences found between immigrant and native youth during their transition from school into the workforce imply 1) that there is need for refocusing concerns over the lack of early labor market experience from immigrants toward native Hispanics and blacks and 2) that the school-to-work transition of immigrants appears at least as smooth as that of natives, indicating that there is no additional need, over and above what is currently in place, for targeted assistance for immigrants. This research should interest anyone involved in the interactions between immigration, the labor market, and the United States educational system, particularly in terms of the school-to-work transition, including federal, state, and local policymakers; school and college administrators, teachers and school-to-work coordinators; and researchers.