Essays on Migration, Social Networks and Employment

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Immigrants rely on social networks upon arrival to their country of destination to access resources, find a job, and begin the process of incorporation. However, the contours of how and under what circumstances networks support a job search or facilitate assimilation remain unexplored. In this dissertation, I look at the intersection of migration, social networks and employment to shed light on both the limitations and benefits of social networks for immigrant incorporation. In Chapter 1, I study whether return migrants use social networks to find a job when they return to their home country. In doing so, I contribute to the academic debate on whether immigrants lose or maintain their connections to friends and family when they leave. Using Colombia as a case study, I draw on data from two years of Colombian nationally representative household surveys conducted in 2016 and 2017. I use a Difference-in-Differences strategy and exploit a mass deportation event of Colombian migrants from Venezuela in 2015 which prompted a wave of return-migrants. This yields three main findings: (1) Return migrants are more likely to use networks in their search than never migrants; (2) social networks are a last resort in return migrants’ job search, and (3) jobs found through networks for return migrants may be lower quality than jobs found through other means. This paper contributes to the literature on return migrant integration, and speaks to an important question in the literature: Will friends and family still be there for you after you’ve left? In Chapter 2, co-authored with Giovanna Merli and Ted Mouw, we study how immigrants’ personal networks are related to their migration experience and key indicators of assimilation. We draw on novel data that includes network data for over 500 immigrants and use model-based clustering to understand the assimilation of a particular case of first-generation immigrants: Chinese immigrants in a sparsely dispersed in a mixed suburban/urban area (Raleigh-Durham). We identify four Chinese immigrant typologies, Chinese Friendship Networks, Socially Embedded, Undecided Newcomers, and Economically Integrated, which are distinguished simultaneously by their social networks and their demographic characteristics. In turn, we find different clusters show different patterns in assimilation indicators. These findings contribute to a growing literature that calls for more granular study of immigrant groups so we can better understand heterogeneity in their outcomes. In Chapter 3, I study the limits of social networks for the immigrant job search. The idea that migrants draw on their networks to obtain employment upon arrival at their destination is central to the immigrant integration literature. However, despite the wealth of evidence on migrants’ use of networks, little is known about when and why migrants are willing to help newcomers find work. To study this, I deploy an online vignette experiment among Latin American immigrants to the United States. I find that immigrants are more likely to provide job search support to other immigrants from their home country but are less likely to lend support to newcomers that pose a reputational risk. I also find that tie strength is important – respondents in our sample are more likely to help a close friend than a stranger, which can help immigrants overcome the difficulties associated with a competitive labor market.






Le Barbenchon, Claire (2022). Essays on Migration, Social Networks and Employment. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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