Ethnicity as skill: Immigrant employment hierarchies in Norwegian low-wage labour markets
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Immigrants are often concentrated in particular, often low-waged, segments of the labour market and employers tend to assume that immigrants posit (soft) skills which make them particularly suited for specific tasks. Less scholarly attention has been given to the real and perceived content of these skills and how employers may shift their view over time. We contribute to the literature by examining changing ethnic employment hierarchies in two immigrant-intensive labour markets in Norway. Drawing on qualitative data from the hotel and fish processing industries, we describe, first, how different ethnic groups are allocated into specific jobs forming a clear hierarchy in the eyes of employers, and, second, how employers’ preferences for particular groups change as new immigrants enter the labour market. Theoretically, we develop the concept of ‘ethnicity as skill’, which points to the tendency among employers to equate ethnic group membership with a set of informal qualifications.