Discourse Analysis of English and Chinese Print Media in Canada: Construction of "Desirable" Immigrants and "Canadian Experience"
Despite the elimination of explicitly discriminatory immigration selection policies since the 1960’s, the social inclusion of immigrants into the labour market continues to mark covert exclusionary practices in Canada. “Canadian experience” (CE) has been identified as one influential factor in immigrants’ unsuccessful attempts to obtain gainful employment. It may constitute “hard skills” (e.g., credentials) and, more importantly, “soft skills”, an ability to operate within “Canadian workplace culture”, an ambiguous concept that is tacitly understood and difficult to articulate. Despite an established critique of the lack of CE as an exclusionary practice and discriminatory requirement for employment, since 2008, immigration policy has embraced CE as criteria for permanent residence for prospective skilled immigrants and those who are already in Canada with visa in desirable occupations. This research examined the discursive construction of “skilled immigrants” and “Canadian experience” in print media to unpack the tacit dimensions of this popular concept. It also explored how immigration policy has been drawing upon CE through the “Canadian Experience Class” (CEC) to construct the “ideal” or “desirable” immigrant as an adaptable neoliberal subject who embodies “Canadian-ness”.
The research team has performed an intertextual, Critical Discourse Analysis on multiple media sources publishing on CE between 2007-2012. This included (a) three leading English-language “mainstream” print media using keywords “skilled immigrant” and “Canadian experience”; and (b) three leading multi-national and Toronto-based Chinese-language newspapers using Chinese translations of above keywords. Our analysis is also informed through federal immigration policies, and interviews and community forums with media representatives, social service providers, and academics.
While groups of media target different audiences and cannot be unproblematically compared, each outlet provides insight into how the opinions of particular audiences are being framed. Researchers found that mainstream newspapers primarily discuss CE as a strategy that allows immigrants to integrate into the workplace or as a barrier that keeps them out of the labor market. Findings suggest that it is normalized into a "taken-for-granted" discourse of “desirability” within the labor market and is also used in other contexts as representative of “Canadian-ness”. The Chinese print media primarily focused on policy implications and strategies for entry to Canada and employment barriers for Chinese immigrants. Researchers found that many articles reproduced the language around Canada’s claimed diversity with little reference to the exclusionary practice of CE or the CEC.
As the ambiguity of CE in “mainstream” and Chinese print media masks dimensions framing ideological tensions in Canadian immigration, this study provides insights into larger contradictory constructions of immigrant’s undesirability and desirability within the labor market and the nation. Hence, the institutionalization of CE through federal immigration policies should be challenged as deeply entwined with the production of self-reliant, “flexible” immigrants, who are able to maintain white cultural values of Canadian society. Since CE is used differently across groups, social workers, policy makers and community organizations should be reflective, critical consumers of media coverage recognizing that representations of CE are highly elastic, partial and possibly biased based on constructions of the audiences media outlets serve.