Abstract: Take a Walk in My Shoes: Immigrant Experiences to Secure Professional Employment (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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31P Take a Walk in My Shoes: Immigrant Experiences to Secure Professional Employment

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Marina Morgenshtern, PhD, Associate Professor, Trent University Durham-GTA, Oshawa, ON, Canada
Gabriela Novotna, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Regina, SK
Dalon Taylor, Assistant Professor, Trent University Durham-GTA, Oshawa, ON, Canada
Uzma Danish, Research Coordinator, Trent University Durham-GTA, Oshawa, ON, Canada
Background and Purpose: Canada’s immigration system is focused on economic immigrants with increased educational and professional attainments. It is believed that a continual flow of immigrants is essential for economic stability and growth, and that high human capital is a strong predictor of immigrant integration and professional employment success. Employment services assist immigrants to develop job search skills. However, immigrants experience significant difficulties finding employment consistent with their qualifications and previous professional experience. Race, gender, and class profoundly impact employers’ hiring considerations. In addition, COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated discrimination in employment as racism, ethnic prejudice and social hostility increased. The presented study explored opportunities and challenges in immigrants’ experiences securing professional employment, to increase public awareness and promote critical dialogue in practice and policy arenas about immigrant experiences of labor market integration.

Methods: Accordant with participatory photovoice methodology, and in collaboration with community social services, eight women and one man who immigrated to Canada within the past 3-15 years were recruited using purposeful sampling. The participants came from Columbia, St. Lucia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Peru, India, and the Philippines; all had academic degrees and had held professional jobs pre-migration; all were fluent in English and were actively searching for professional employment at the time of the study. Data collection included all participants providing photographs that represented their experiences while searching for professional employment in Canada, written reflections on the photographs, and semi-structured individual interviews and two focus groups to discuss photographs and reflections in more depth. Data were analyzed using thematic analysis. The whole research cycle was informed by feminist intersectionality to illuminate the links between the participants’ identity markers and the social disparities of the neoliberal job market in Canada.

Results: The participants’ accounts demonstrated that empowerment experiences – skill development programs, internships, networking—were permeated with challenges to find meaningful learning opportunities and mentorship, create strong networks, and address bureaucratic demands. The participants also discussed judgement, lack of recognition, exploitation and deceit, prejudice, devaluation, and rejection. However, they showed immense strengths and resilience navigating the challenges of misrecognition and deskilling. The accounts made it clear that only paying attention to immigrants’ job search skills is counterproductive as it individualizes the process of employment search, assigns blame for failure onto the immigrants, and ignores the role of the broad society in creating challenges.

Conclusions and Implications: Underemployment and challenges in entering the professional labor market are common among skilled immigrants despite them having high educational and professional credentials. Theorizing the findings through the lens of feminist intersectionality provides insights into the experiences of immigrants that span beyond Canadian skills-based immigration programs; it emphasizes the imperative of social and state action to affect immigrant integration. It is not enough to find the ‘right’ immigrants. Government action, such as including immigrant voices in decision making about integration policy and services; educating employers in anti-racism, cultural humility, and immigrant experience; and dispelling myths, misunderstandings, and misconceptions in public perception about immigrants, are essential for a country’s economic prosperity and successful immigrant integration.