We examine the impact of language training on the economic integration of immigrants in France. The language classes are offered by the French Ministry of the Interior after the immigrant signs the Contrat d’accueil et d’intégration. The training is more likely to be available when the test score of an initial language exam is below a certain threshold. Our study is novel and important in at least two directions. First, we use a local randomized experiment in the form of a Regression Discontinuity Design to estimate the effects of language training on immigrants’ integration. Second, we look at the mechanisms through which language classes impact on a set of outcome variables related to economic integration.
We find that the number of hours of training significantly increases labor force participation. The effect appears to be smaller for women, individuals above the median age, and family migrants relative to labor migrants and refugees. The language training shows significantly higher impact on labor force participation for individuals with higher levels of education. Furthermore, the language classes do not appear to increase the probability of employment. The latter finding however needs to be interpreted with caution because our data do not allow to analyze long run effects.
We explore different mechanisms that explain the effect of language classes on labor force participation. We find little evidence for an objective improvement of language skills – which might be due to the basic level of the CAI French classes –, for a signaling effect of the diploma received after the end of the language classes, for an increase in the size of the network and for an information effect related to access to welfare benefits. Instead, we find negative behavioral effects that may derive from disappointment from the in- tegration plan. Finally, the information on job search strategies that individuals derive from the time spent with their classmates and teachers during the classes appear to be an important channel that helps immigrants to integrate in the French labor market.
We believe that the insights we gain on the information mechanism amplify our under- standing of language classes as a means of facilitating integration. We can speculate that this knowledge of the information channel is applicable beyond France, as long as the classes imply active interaction between immigrants and teachers for a sufficiently long time length. Instead, generalization of our findings on the lack of effects of the training on objective language skills and probability of employment should be taken with cau- tion, given the basic level of the CAI French classes. For Finland, the reform analyzed by Sarvimäki and Hämäläinen (2016) allocated more resources toward language courses, in addition to improve communication between caseworkers and immigrants, and this was beneficial for the immigrants’ earnings, even if it did not affect their employment prospects. In France, the language classes of the Contrat d’Integration Republicaine – the new integration plan introduced by the French government on the 1st of July 2016 – pro- vide more advanced training than the CAI language classes. To analyze whether this change in the integration policy is beneficial to immigrants’ integration, there is a need to collect new data on labor market outcomes for several years after the policy change.
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