Aims of the research

The research project DeMiCo aims at investigating the social phenomenon of “deskilling”, thereby focusing, over a time span of two years, on the micro-level processes leading to this phenomenon. For this purpose, we concentrate on interviewing (three times) highly educated migrants from “new” EU member states in Vienna and their experiences with work placement, their meaning-making as well as their coping strategies when facing “deskilling”. Another perspective on the phenomenon of deskilling will be included through interviews with advisors and other stakeholders working in different institutions who are confronted with over-qualification on a daily basis, as well as through ethnographic research at these institutions.

“Deskilling” among migrants

While native-born workers may also experience a non-correspondence between their qualifications and the requirements of the job exercised, the phenomenon of deskilling is particularly widespread among migrants (Visintin et al. 2015, Arslan et al. 2015, Galgóczi et al. 2012, OECD 2014, Spielvogel & Meghnagi 2018, Gächter 2006, 2016, 2012, Eurostat 2017a, Sirkeci et al. 2018). According to the labour force survey (Eurostat 2016) over one third of first-generation immigrants from the EU with a tertiary degree worked in jobs that did not require their level of education, compared to approx. one fifth of native-born residents, and while these percentages had declined for immigrants born outside the EU, they had risen significantly for EU mobile citizens since 2008. The literature refers to the phenomenon of deskilling in terms of underemployment, skills/educational/job mismatch, over-qualification, over-education, over-schooling and downward professional mobility (see for example Cardu 2015, Mollard & Umar 2015, Visintin et al. 2015). For the purpose of our research, we define deskilling and over-education as the fact of exercising a job that requires a lesser qualification than the level of the highest degree obtained by the individual (cf. Cardu 2015).

In our research we focus on migrants from the ‘new’ EU member states (the countries that joined the EU in the course of the 2004 and 2007 enlargements) holding a tertiary diploma from abroad , as research has indicated that mobile citizens from these countries are disproportionately high-qualified and at the same time above-average affected by deskilling (Visintin et al. 2015, Sirkeci et al. 2018, Johnston et al. 2015).

Our approach

While much of the relevant literature has dealt with the phenomenon of deskilling from a macro perspective, current research suggests that special attention must also be given to the individual motives leading highly skilled migrants to accept low-qualified jobs and migrant agency in coping with (the risks of) deskilling. The project DeMiCo thus aims to investigate the concrete mechanisms and micro-level processes which co-produce the phenomenon of ‘deskilling’. We thereby consider skills (and thus also deskilling) as a social construct that differs according to context.

In our project, we will thus apply a qualitative, actor- and process-oriented constructivist research approach to investigate the production of deskilling. Various methods will be combined such as a qualitative panel study with migrants from Hungary, Czech Republic and Romania living in Vienna (three waves of interviews), problem centred interviews with advisors working in different institutions who are confronted with over-qualification in their daily work as well as ethnographic observations at these institutions.

Our approach includes analysing both the social and institutional context, explored mainly through the stakeholders’ perspective and the migrants’ experiences in relevant institutions, and the migrants’ agency, considering both individual experiences of ‘being deskilled’ as well as the individual and collective resources activated (such as education, skills, social networks). By relating the results of this analysis with one another, it will be possible to address the social phenomenon of “deskilling” among migrants from ‘new’ EU member states in Vienna, emerging from the interplay between institutional and labour market structures and migrants’ agency.

Members of the scientific advisory board

  • Vincent Dubois (University of Strasbourg)
  • August Gächter (Centre for Social Innovation, Vienna/Austria)
  • Johanna Hofbauer (Vienna University of Economics and Business)
  • Bozena Sojka (University of Wolverhampton)

Arslan, Cansin, Jean-Christophe Dumont, Zovanga Kone, Yasser Moullan, Caglar Ozden, Christopher Parsons, and Theodora Xenogiani. 2015. "A New Profile of Migrants in the Aftermath of the Recent Economic Crisis."  OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 160. doi: doi:

Cardu, Hélène. 2015. "Resilience strategies used by immigrant women facing professional deskilling in Quebec: A literature review and a small-scale study." In Crushed hopes, edited by International Organization for Migration, 139-161. Geneva/Ottawa: International Organization for Migration.

Eurostat. 2016. "First and second-generation immigrants - statistics on education and skills." Eurostat, accessed 05/11/2018.

Eurostat. 2017a. "Migrant Integration Statistics" (edited by Piotr Juchno and Mihaela Agafitei). Luxembourg: Eurostat.

Galgóczi, B., J. Leschke, and A. Watt. 2012. EU Labour Migration in Troubled Times: Skills Mismatch, Return and Policy Responses: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Gächter, August. 2006. "Migration and the Austrian Labour Market in an Enlarging European Union." A regional approach to free movement of workers: labour migration between Hungary and its neighbouring countries, Szeged.

Gächter, August. 2012. "Inakzeptable Ungleichheiten am Arbeitsmarkt."  Arbeitspapiere Migration und soziale Mobilität Nr. 23.

Gächter, August. 2016. "Die Attraktivität von Arbeitskräften aus den EU-Mitgliedsstaaten 2004 und 2007."  Arbeitspapiere Migration und soziale Mobilität Nr. 31.

Johnston, Ron, Nabil Khattab, and David Manley. 2015. "East versus West? Over-qualification and Earnings among the UK's European Migrants."  Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 41:218. doi: 10.1080/1369183X.2014.935308.

Mollard, Blandine, and Sanober Umar. 2015. "Gender, migration and deskilling. A broad review of the literature." In Crushed hopes, edited by International Organization for Migration, 11-36. Geneva/Ottawa: International Organization for Migration.

OECD. 2014. International Migration Outlook 2014. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Sirkeci, Ibrahim, Necla Acik, Bradley Saunders, and Andrej Přívara. 2018. "Barriers for Highly Qualified A8 Immigrants in the UK Labour Market."  Work, Employment and Society 32:924. doi: 10.1177/0950017017726912.

Spielvogel, Gilles, and Michela Meghnagi. 2018. The contribution of migration to the dynamics of the labour force in OECD countries: 2005-2015. In OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Visintin, Stefano, Kea Tijdens, and Maarten van Klaveren. 2015. "Skill mismatch among migrant workers: evidence from a large multi-country dataset."  IZA Journal of Migration 4 (14).