Large share of highly educated immigrants in unskilled jobs

Half of all people overqualified for unskilled jobs are immigrants who have received higher education in their home country, new analysis shows, and of people with a PhD working in unskilled jobs, nearly 90% earned their doctorate abroad.

The analysis was carried out by Danish labour union Faglig Felles Forbund (3F), which has 370,000 members who comprise both unskilled and skilled workers. Among these, 18,000 have education beyond secondary school; 3,400 have a masters degree; and 270 have a PhD*.

Some 9,000 3F members have a higher post-secondary school education from another country, of whom “5,000 come from Western countries and 4,000 from non-Western countries”.

3F economist Jesper Grunnet-Lauridsen, who carried out the analysis, told University World News: “The biggest surprise is that so many foreigners with higher post-secondary school education work in unskilled jobs. About 33% of all foreigners in Denmark who have completed their higher education in their home country work in unskilled jobs in Denmark.

“This means that a lot of foreigners don’t make use of their homeland education when they come to Denmark. It’s a big economic loss for the Danish society … we don’t make full use of the qualifications that foreigners have.”

According to the analysis, in Denmark there are 22,000 people working in a job with a high-level qualification earned abroad, amounting to approximately 3% of all people registered at the highest level of education.

Among those working in unskilled jobs and having a higher education, approximately half were in possession of a higher education degree earned abroad.

This corresponds to one third of people with a higher education from abroad working in unskilled jobs.

The analysis, published in the newsletter Fagbladet.3F on 7 July, reveals that, among the 270 members with a PhD, nearly nine in every 10 (89%) acquired their degree outside Denmark. Almost half of these come from Eastern-Europe, 80% are men and 70% are aged between 30 and 49 years.

“It is surprising that so many [who have held higher education qualifications for a while] are ending up in 3F-jobs. But even both unskilled and skilled jobs in Denmark can be attractive for foreigners,” Grunnet-Lauridsen, said.

Varying perceived value

He suggested that the value of degrees obtained abroad is viewed differently depending on the country in which they were earned.

“Higher education from other countries is not ranked as high as Danish education. It is also demonstrated by the numbers that higher education from Sweden, the US and the UK is worth more in Denmark compared to higher education from, for instance, Poland or Ukraine,” Grunnet-Lauritsen said.

Half of the population bringing a higher education qualification to Denmark from Germany, India, the UK, Sweden and the US are working in a high-level occupation while the corresponding figure is below 15% for those coming from Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania and Nepal. In particular, a large proportion of people with higher education from Poland and Nepal who come to Denmark work at a lower occupation level.

The analysis is based on figures from the Denmark Statistics Research Service and takes into account the highest level of completed education in the population in 2019 and the salary data for employed people in Denmark (Lønmodtagerbeskæftigelsen-BFL).

The information on education gained abroad before coming to Denmark is derived from the register of highest completed education levels. The data on qualifications is based on the DISCO-code. Smaller companies within the private sector do not have a DISCO-code and are hence underrepresented in the study.