Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 681–721 | Cite as

Inter-firm mobility and return migration patterns of skilled guest workers

  • Briggs DepewEmail author
  • Peter Norlander
  • Todd A. Sørensen
Original Paper


Two concerns central to the debate over skilled guest worker programs in the USA are that (1) guest workers are restricted from inter-firm mobility and are “effectively tied” to their firms, and (2) guest workers provide cheap and immobile labor that crowds out natives, especially during times of heightened unemployment. We address these concerns by using a unique dataset of employee records from six large Indian IT firms operating in the USA. We find that the guest workers in our sample exhibit a significant amount of inter-firm mobility that varies over both the earnings distribution and the business cycle. We also find that these workers exit the USA during periods of heightened unemployment. These findings provide new evidence on the implications of the institutional features and debate surrounding guest worker programs.


Guest workers Skilled migration Work mobility Return migration 

JEL Classification

J42 J61 J62 



We would like to thank the anonymous referees, Randy Akee, Louis Beland, Leah Boustan, Danny Brent, Peter Brummund, Christopher Ericksson, Gordon Dahl, David Fairris, Boris Hirsch, Elke Jahn, Taylor Jaworski, William Lincoln, Norman Matloff, Sankar Mukhopadhyay, Mindy Marks, Naci Mocan, Patrick O’Rourke, Ben Rissing, Chad Sparber, Doug Webber, Tiemen Woutersen and Klaus Zimmermann for their helpful comments. In addition, we appreciate the feedback received at University of Nevada Reno, UCLA, UT-Dallas, UT-Austin, IAB Nuremberg, Whittier College, the 2013 meetings of the Southern Economics Association, the 2014 meetings of the American Economics Association, the 2014 meetings of the Society of Labor Economists, and the 2014 IZA Annual Migration Meetings. We are grateful to the providers of the confidential payroll data analyzed in this paper; the data is confidential to protect the identities of individuals and firms.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Briggs Depew
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  • Peter Norlander
    • 2
  • Todd A. Sørensen
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  2. 2.Quinlan School of BusinessLoyola University ChicagoChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Department of EconomicsUniversity of NevadaRenoUSA
  4. 4.IZABonnGermany

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