Barry R. Chiswick
European countries admitted more than a million migrants from North Africa and the Middle East in 2015, primarily from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Some are refugees fleeing civil war, discrimination, and chaotic situations. Others are economic migrants seeking better opportunities. The vast majority of both types of predominantly Arabic speakers will settle permanently in Europe, where Arabic is not the dominant language but where substantial enclaves of Arabic speakers live. Although some of these immigrants will be proficient in their host country’s language, most will not.
The recent surge in international migration has focused attention on the economics of language: the determinants and consequences—including prospects for employment and earning potential—of migrants’ proficiency in their host country’s language. The economic success of migrants depends heavily on how well and quickly they learn the language of their new country.
Theoretical and empirical research, both my own and by colleagues in the field, has benefited from the relatively recent release of large microdata sets in the major immigrant-receiving countries, which identify immigrants, their original language, and their proficiency in the host country’s main language, along with other relevant social, demographic, and economic characteristics.