Career-seeking immigrants in three countries face similar barriers: York-led study

Qualified immigrants who move to Canada, France or Spain in pursuit of career advancement have similar attitudes toward the immigration experience and career transition, despite the different climates for immigrants in each country, a study led by York University suggests.

Jelena Zikic, a professor in York’s School of Human Resource Management, is lead author of the study, “Crossing national boundaries: A typology of qualified immigrants’ career orientations”, published in the July issue of the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

Zikic and co-authors in France and Spain did in-depth interviews with 45 immigrants who at minimum held a bachelor’s degree or equivalent from their home country and chose to immigrate to Canada, France or Spain. Their qualitative study was designed to analyze how individuals who have the education and resources to move to a new country differ in their subjective responses to similar objective barriers such as lack of recognition of their career training and experience, or difficulty tapping into new social networks and local job-hunting resources.

“The climate for immigrants varies among the three countries. Canada is considered the country of immigrants, Spain is just beginning to get an influx of immigrants, and France falls between the two,” says Zikic. “Despite this, we found that immigrants in each country face similar local labour market barriers. We also found three types of subjective immigrant responses to the barriers: embracing the change, adapting to the change and resisting the change.”

About 24 per cent of those interviewed were very positive about career success in the new country, and there were striking examples of a ‘boundaryless’ attitude among those who embraced the fact that they now had to find a way to reinvent themselves and their careers. The largest group − about 49 per cent − adapted to their new circumstances, either by adapting their careers or crafting new ones, although that also included many people who worked at what could be considered survival jobs. Finally, about 27 per cent found the obstacles too difficult to overcome, often because of psychological barriers such as attitudes about their age.

“It’s incredible how much talent is searching for the right job and a lot of immigrants just give up,” says Zikic. “We often call this the brain waste; they’re underemployed.”

Immigrants in all of the countries used six strategies in finding work: maintaining motivation, managing identity, developing new credentials, developing local know-how; building a new social network and understanding career success. How successful they were was dependent on whether they embraced, adapted to or resisted the challenges, Zikic says.

In contrast to this study, most research looks at either the subjective experiences of immigrants or the objective obstacles, says Zikic: in order to develop more effective programs for immigrants, research should examine the interplay between the subjective experiences of immigrants and the realities they face.

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