DP9410 Migration and Wage Effects of Taxing Top Earners: Evidence from the Foreigners' Tax Scheme in Denmark

Author(s): Henrik Kleven, Camille Landais, Emmanuel Saez, Esben Schultz
Publication Date: March 2013
Keyword(s): International Migration, Taxation, Wage Bargaining
JEL(s): H22, H31, J61
Programme Areas: Public Policy
Link to this Page: http://www.cepr.org/pubs/dps/DP9410

This paper analyzes the effects of income taxation on the international migration and earnings of top earners using a Danish preferential foreigner tax scheme and population-wide Danish administrative data. This scheme, introduced in 1991, allows new immigrants with high earnings to be taxed at a preferential flat rate for a duration of three years. We obtain three main results. First, the scheme has doubled the number of highly paid foreigners in Denmark relative to slightly less paid ineligible foreigners, which translates into a very large elasticity of migration with respect to the net-of-tax rate on foreigners, between 1.5 and 2. Hence, preferential tax schemes for highly paid foreign workers could create severe tax competition between countries. Second, we find compelling evidence of a negative effect of scheme-induced increases in the net-of-tax rate on pre-tax earnings at the individual level. This finding cannot be explained by the standard labor supply model where pay equals marginal productivity, but it can be rationalized by a matching frictions model with wage bargaining where there is a gap between pay and marginal productivity. Third, we find no evidence of positive or negative spillovers of the scheme-induced influx of high-skilled foreigners on the earnings of highly paid natives.