Abstract: Has Social Work Missed the 'boat'? a Content Analysis of the Lived Experience of Highly-Skilled Immigrants (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

27P Has Social Work Missed the 'boat'? a Content Analysis of the Lived Experience of Highly-Skilled Immigrants

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Tanzilya Oren, MA, MSW, Doctoral Student, Fordham University, NEW YORK, NY
Background and purpose: Western governmental policies favor limiting immigration to skilled workers. Much of the research on this topic is quantitative and concerns the career trajectories and geographic locations of highly-skilled immigrants and refugees (HSI). By contrast, there is a paucity of research on the implications for immigrants’ well-being, livelihoods, and identities – on their lived experiences. This content analysis responds to the gap in the literature by providing an in-depth evaluation of interdisciplinary qualitative research on the lived experiences of first-generation and self-initiated adult HSIs, as captured through thematic analyses of first-person accounts. To this end, deductive and inductive analyses were used to select and investigate peer-reviewed academic studies that employed phenomenological qualitative data analysis.

Methods: In the Fall 2018 a search of university research databases and Google Scholar was conducted to identify peer-reviewed academic empirical studies on HSIs that used qualitative designs with phenomenological data analysis. Out of the 117 relevant studies, eight articles met the pre-determined eligibility criteria. Deductive and inductive analyses were used following the general content-analysis framework of Drisco and Maschi (Maschi & Drisko, 2016). The following are the underlying research questions that drove this study: (1) What dominant themes emerge in the literature on the lived experiences of HSI? (2) What disciplines are included; what phenomena is investigated; what research questions are explored; what is the researchers’ positionality and what methods are commonly used?

Findings: Deductive analysis results revealed that the eight studies were published between 2009 - 2018 in six different western countries, mostly in Canada and Europe, with samples using diverse subgroups of HSIs, such as LGBT, women, and ethnic minorities. The studies were in the fields of educational and counseling psychology (n=4) and business (n=4).  In inductive analysis, eight migration themes surfaced, with several sub-themes. Broadly speaking, HSIs have specific motivations to migrate – above all the search for safer and better lives. Upon arrival, HSIs experience post-migration isolation, leading to the loss of social and professional identity which adversely affects mental health and well-being. HSIs confront structural and societal discrimination, including skills-discounting, as well as discrimination based on language and accent, ethnicity and race, sexual orientation and gender – discrimination that also severely affects their mental health and well-being. 

Conclusion and Implications: The findings suggest there are opportunities for social workers to intervene at each stage of the HSIs’ post-migration journey to address common issues (mental health, well-being, structural and societal discrimination, and grief related to the loss of social identity). Through targeted interventions, social workers can gain a clear understanding of pervasive issues, their implications, and become change-makers who facilitate the processes of overcoming, coping, and rebuilding HSI’s social and professional identities. Further research is needed to explore the lived experiences of HSIs and the experiences of other groups of skilled immigrants. Also, HSIs are well-positioned to participate in and undertake co-research.