Abstract: Precarious Immigrant Pathways: A Gender-Based Analysis of Racial and Economic Insecurity for Immigrant Women in Canada (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Precarious Immigrant Pathways: A Gender-Based Analysis of Racial and Economic Insecurity for Immigrant Women in Canada

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Independence BR B, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Rupaleem Bhuyan, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Catherine Schmidt, MSW, Graduate Student, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background and Purpose: This paper explores the settlement needs of immigrant women and their families, and how their needs are currently being met by settlement services in Canada. Immigrant women represent a growing proportion of Canada’s population (11%) with the majority of new immigrants arriving today from Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean. Recent immigrant women, the majority of whom are racialized, face troubling systemic inequities including high rates of poverty and poor health. Our literature review identified gaps in knowledge about how settlement services are meeting the needs of immigrant women, particularly for those with precarious immigration status.

Methods: We employed a qualitative research design that included interviews and focus groups with 20 front-line service providers and 40 recent immigrant women in different regions of Ontario, Canada. Immigrant women were recruited through community agencies and through snowball sampling. Our sample included women who came to Canada through different immigration streams, including women who arrived in Canada as permanent residents through economic, family class or refugee streams, and women who arrived with precarious status, on temporary visitor or work visas, as refugee claimants, or as international students. Through an intersectional gender-based analysis, we considered the heterogeneity of immigrant women who make up a growing proportion of the Canadian population in relation to broader trends in transnational migration, temporary and precarious immigration status, and growing income inequality in Canada.

Findings: Across different immigration categories, women face a variety of challenges after migration that are mediated by gender including barriers to accessing reproductive and general healthcare, difficulty finding childcare, lack of social support in navigating the transitions after childbirth, and difficulty finding employment commensurate with experience. Yet the strategies available to women in addressing these challenges, including the services that they are able to access, are shaped in large part by their immigration status and income. Women with precarious immigration status, particularly refugee claimants, low-skilled temporary foreign workers, and those with less access to financial capital, face specific challenges such as prolonged family separation, risk of abuse and exploitation, and more limited access to settlement and other social services.

Conclusions and Implications:

Our findings build on previous research suggesting that immigration policies reproduce gender, racial and class inequalities through immigration categories that confer different access to rights and entitlements. By including a broad range of women who entered Canada through different immigration pathways, our analysis demonstrates that even shared settlement challenges may be experienced and responded to differently based on national origin, religion, ethnicity, class and immigration status. Given the heightened vulnerability of women with precarious status, these findings highlight the need for settlement services to open up eligibility criteria to include all immigrant women. Our findings also reinforce the importance of including immigration status as a category of analysis within future research studies.