Abstract: Assessing Immigrant and Refugee Women's Settlement Outcomes in Canada: Insights from a Systematized Literature Review (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Assessing Immigrant and Refugee Women's Settlement Outcomes in Canada: Insights from a Systematized Literature Review

Friday, January 18, 2019: 5:30 PM
Golden Gate 4, Lobby Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Cathy Schmidt, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Rupaleem Bhuyan, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background and Purpose

Canada currently receives close to a quarter million immigrants and refugees annually, with the federal government playing a significant role in funding “settlement” services for newly arrived immigrants. Non-profit, ethno-cultural organizations are typically funded to provide language classes and employment programs to facilitate the integration of new immigrants. There is an increasing number of immigrants, however, who are not eligible for federally funded “settlement” services, because they enter Canada on temporary work or study permits. Non-status immigrants, including “failed” refugee claimants, are also barred from most federally funded programs. This research is part of a national study on the settlement outcomes of immigrant women. As part of our first phase of study, we conducted a systematized review of the academic literature to examine what recent research tell us about the settlement outcomes of immigrant women in Canada with specific attention to emerging literature on immigration status.


We employed a comprehensive search strategy to locate articles in nine databases using key search terms related to “immigrant women in Canada”. A total of 1060 articles were initially retrieved and reviewed to select articles which met the following inclusion criteria: 1) peer-reviewed journal articles; 2) published in English between 2008 and 2018; 3) presenting conceptual or empirical research about the settlement experiences and outcomes of first generation newcomer immigrant women (who have been in Canada for less than 10 years). 170 articles were included in the final review. We conducted feminist thematic analysis using qualitative analysis software, HyperResearch, to assist with data management.


Consistent with previous research on immigrant settlement in Canada, literature that focusses on immigrant women identified poor economic and employment outcomes as key themes, especially for racialized immigrant women who are overrepresented in low-paying jobs with high levels of precarity. The majority of immigrants in Canada, including those identifying as women, arrive with high levels of education, but are often underemployed or deskilled. Our review of literature also noted that immigrant women carry a disproportionate burden of household and child rearing responsibilities which further constrains their employment opportunities. The research shows that negative employment outcomes can have a detrimental effect on many other aspects of settlement, including domestic violence, health and mental health and social integration. Our findings also highlight the importance of immigration status in determining settlement trajectories. Immigrants without permanent resident status are not eligible for many health and social services and are at high risk of workplace exploitation, poverty, social exclusion, health and mental health challenges, housing insecurity and intimate partner violence.

Conclusions and Implications

Our findings point to the importance of an intersectional lens in understanding the settlement outcomes of immigrant women, which are heavily shaped by race, class and immigration status. The review highlights the pervasive effects of precarious immigration status on the settlement trajectories of immigrant women, and points to the dangers in current practices that exclude those who are most vulnerable from access to settlement services and other social services.