Language Proficiency and Economic Incentives: The Case of Syrian Asylum Seekers in Germany
Using unique survey data on subjective expectation regarding the return to language proficiency for Syrian asylum seekers in Germany, this study finds evidence that the decision on language acquisition levels responds to economic incentives. This finding fills a gap in the existing literature on migrants’ language acquisition decision. In the German context, issuance of a future permanent residence permit is linked by law to the acquisition of certain language skills. The analysis shows that asylum seekers who expect a higher chance to obtain a permanent residence permit from being competent in German have a significantly higher language proficiency. An increases by 10 pp (0.5 standard deviation) of the expected return to language ability increases language proficiency scores by a 0.06 to 0.09 standard deviation.