The effect of language on labour market success for immigrants and citizens in South Africa

by Samaa Zien, Colette Muller, and Claire Vermaak
September 2019


A sharp increase in the number of immigrants in South Africa has raised questions about the impact of immigration on the labour market. Whether or not immigrants can speak English—the primary language of business in South Africa—may affect their labour market success. This study uses the 2011 South African Census data and finds that immigrants are more successful than locals in South Africa. Immigrants’ success is partially attributed to the advantage gained from speaking English as a second language, whereas speaking English as a second language is less valued by the labour market for locals. Individuals who speak English are more active and more likely to obtain employment and earn higher wages than non-English speakers. The study finally shows that, although female immigrants benefit more from the ability to speak English, male immigrants are more successful overall in South Africa’s labour market.

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