Skilled immigrants in Canada are economic immigrants chosen for their educational backgrounds and professional experiences under the point system. However, the high rate of unemployment and underemployment of Canada's skilled immigrants has been documented widely (Hawthorne, 2008). Several recent suicide deaths of Mainland Chinese skilled immigrants in Toronto have sharply highlighted the urgency of skilled immigrant integration, as, reportedly, it was under enormous economic and psychological pressure that these unemployed immigrants chose to end their lives. While much attention has been given to the structural barriers to professional employment of immigrants, such as the unwillingness to recognize foreign credentials (Bauder, 2003), immigrants' subjective psycho-social experience of underemployment has received limited attention. The current study particularly focused on the experiences of skilled immigrants from Mainland China (a leading skilled immigrant group in the past decade) who had been in Canada for 4-10 years. Little is known about the experiences of these “earlier” immigrants who are no longer considered “newcomers” eligible for federal government-sponsored settlement programs, while they may still experience underemployment or unemployment.
A grounded theory study (Charmaz, 2006) was conducted using in-depth interviews (n = 29) and four focus groups (n = 29) with Mainland Chinese skilled immigrants living in Canada for 4-10 years, and 13 key informant interviews with service providers. Questions explored life in Canada, service utilization, and factors affecting their settlement. All interviews and focus groups were audio-taped and transcribed for data analysis using NVivo. Three research assistants who themselves were recent Mainland Chinese immigrants conducted interviews and translated the data linguistically and culturally, and a community partner agency helped with member checking, prolonged engagement, horizontization and consultation.
A strong theme was a sense of failure and loss that resulted from challenges in multiple arenas, with employment as the leading difficulty. Participants referred to this experience as luocha. Luo means fall and cha means difference in height or gap. The experience of luocha among Mainland Chinese immigrants is caused not only by the declined financial status due to un/underemployment, but also by language barriers, losing control of their future, feeling alien to the cultural and social environment, decreased social network, altered roles in family and workplace, changes in relationships with peers in China and a general disillusion with their new lives. In short, these Mainland Chinese immigrants viewed their lives from the perspective of loucha. In coping with harsh realities, study participants also adopted various coping strategies to deal with the problems they faced in Canada.
Conclusions and Implications:
Although luocha is expressed as an individual feeling of loss of identity and status, it is ordered by social circumstances; thus it is simultaneously psychological, personal, and structural. The examination of luocha helps us explore the interconnections between individual life circumstances (or at least what is seen as individual) and the macro issues of settlement policies, immigrant politics and exclusion of immigrants from full participation in society. Specific policy and practice recommendations will be discussed such as needs for enhanced eligibility criteria for “earlier” immigrants.