The purpose of this paper is to examine the effects of immigration on the labour market outcomes of low-educated natives (i.e. residents without a university diploma). Using the labour market competition theory, which argues that the labour market effects of natives depend on the skill set of immigrants, the paper addresses whether immigrants are complementary to or substitutes for native workers.
Longitudinal matched employer–employee data on Sweden are used to estimate how low-educated natives, in regions experiencing the greatest influx of refugees from the Balkan wars, responded to this supply shock with regard to real wages, employment and job mobility between 1990 and 2003.
First, the analysis shows that low-educated native workers respond to the arrival of immigrants with an increase in real wages. Second, although employment prospects in general worsened for low-skilled workers in most regions, this is not attributable to the regions experiencing the largest supply shock. Third, there are indications that low-skilled natives in immigration-rich regions are more likely to change workplace, particularly in combination with moving upwards in the wage distribution.
Rather than seeing an emergence of the commonly perceived displacement mechanism when an economy is subject to a supply shock, the regional findings suggest that high inflows of immigrants tend to induce a mechanism that pulls native workers upwards in the wage distribution. This is important, as the proportion of immigrants is seldom evenly distributed within a nation.