Theses Doctoral

Three Essays on International Migration

Huang, Xiaoning

Today, there are about 250 million international migrants globally, and the number is increasing each year. Immigrants have contributed to the global economy, bridged cultural and business exchanges between host and home countries, and increased ethnic, racial, social, and cultural diversity in the host societies. Immigrants have also been overgeneralized about, misunderstood, scapegoated, and discriminated against. Understanding what drives international migration, who migrate, and how immigrants fare in destination has valuable theoretical, practical, and policy implications. This dissertation consists of three essays on international immigration. The first paper aims to test a series of immigration theories by studying immigrant skill-selection into South Africa and the United States. Most of the research on the determinants of immigrant skill selection has been focusing on immigrants in the United States and other developed destination countries. However, migration has been growing much faster in recent years between developing countries. This case study offers insights into the similarities and differences of immigration theories within the contexts of international migration into South Africa and the US. This project is funded by the Hamilton Research Fellowship of Columbia School of Social Work.

The second paper narrows down the focus onto Asian immigrants in the United States, studying how the skill-selection of Asian immigrants from different regions has evolved over the past four decades. Asian sending countries have experienced tremendous growth in their economy and educational infrastructure. The rapid development provides an excellent opportunity to test the theories on the associations between emigrants’ skill-selection and sending countries’ income, inequality, and education level. On the other hand, during the study period, the United States has had massive expansion employment-based immigration system, followed by cutbacks in immigration policies. I study the association between immigration patterns and these policies to draw inferences on how the changes in immigration policies have affected the skill selection of Asian immigrants. This research is funded by Columbia University Weatherhead East Asia Institute’s Dorothy Borg Research Program Dissertation Research Fellowship.

The third paper centers on the less-educated immigrant groups in the US and investigates the gap in welfare use between less-educated immigrant and native households during 1995-2018, spanning periods of economic recessions and recoveries, changes in welfare policy regimes, and policies towards immigrants. I use “decomposition analysis” to study to what extend demographic factors, macroeconomic trends, and welfare and immigration policy could explain the disparities in welfare participation between immigrants and natives. This paper is co-authored with Dr. Neeraj Kaushal from Columbia School of Social Work and Dr. Julia Shu-Huah Wang from the University of Hong Kong. The work has been published in Population Research and Policy Review (

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Thesis Advisors
Kaushal, Neeraj
Garfinkel, Irwin
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 28, 2021