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Hagan, Jacqueline Maria; Lowe, Nichola; & Quingla, Christian (2011). Skills on the Move: Rethinking the Relationship between Human Capital and Immigrant Economic Mobility. Work and Occupations, 38(2), 149-178. PMCID: PMC3658444


Studies of immigrant labor market incorporation in the unregulated sector of the U.S. economy either assume that immigrant workers are trapped in low-wage jobs because of low human capital, or paint a picture of blocked mobility because of exploitation and discrimination. In this article, we offer a third sociological alternative to understand processes of occupational mobility and skill learning. Drawing on work histories of 111 immigrant construction workers, we find that many immigrants are skilled; having come to their jobs with technical skill sets acquired in their home communities and their previous U.S. jobs. We further find that these less-educated immigrants, who rank low on traditional human capital attributes but high on work experience may circumvent exploitation and build mobility pathways through skill transference, on-the-job reskilling, and brincando (job jumping).


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Work and Occupations


Hagan, Jacqueline Maria
Lowe, Nichola
Quingla, Christian