Give Me Your Rested, Your Wealthy, Your Educated Few? A Critical Discussion of the Current Literature on Immigrant Self-employment

Joshua Bedi, Shaomeng Jia*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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The finding that immigrants are more likely to self-employ than natives has been consistently shown by different researchers. At the same time, many call for the prioritization of high-skilled immigration as they believe low-skilled entrepreneurs are not particularly innovative or high-growth-oriented. The purpose of this study is to critically review and synthesize the current literature on immigrant self-employment, paying particular attention to low-skilled immigrant entrepreneurship and the popular policy recommendation that high-skilled immigrants should be prioritized.

The authors survey the existing literature on immigrant self-employment and discuss recurring data issues, how those issues have or have not been addressed, as well as how these data issues impact the validity of policy recommendations that favor high-skilled immigrants and disfavor low-skilled immigrants. In particular, the authors examine how length of stay in the host country and host country institutions impact immigrant self-employment, especially low-skilled immigrant self-employment. The authors also point out unintended consequences of low-skilled immigration.

The authors find data issues significantly impact the potential justifications behind calls to favor high-skilled immigrants. In particular, many researchers underestimate the positive impacts of low-skilled immigrant self-employment by not accounting for institutions and length of stay in the host country. The authors conclude with policy recommendations that prioritize high-skilled immigration should be re-examined in light of recurring omitted variable biases within previous studies and evidence of a number of positive unintended consequences associated with low-skilled migration.

The authors review current literature and discuss how important confounding variables, like the number of years an immigrant entrepreneur has lived in a host country and the institutions of a host country, make common policy recommendations suggesting prioritization of high-skilled immigration problematic. The authors also discuss potential solutions to these data issues, ways these issues have been solved already, and possible ways forward. Finally, after considering the literature, the authors offer our own set of policy recommendations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Entrepreneurship and Public Policy
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)53-69
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Published online: 1 February 2022.


  • Immigration
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Self-employment
  • Institutions
  • Policy

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