The Dire Situation of Skilled Immigrants in Canada: A Former Employment Counsellor’s Perspective
By David Marulanda
Skilled immigrants comprise a significant portion of the population in our country (Statistics Canada, 2017). Their successful settlement in Canada largely hinges on finding employment commensurate with their professional experience. Nevertheless, skilled immigrants face barriers such as stringent accreditation requirements and lack of recognition of foreign credentials that lead them to unemployment or underemployment (Chen & Hong, 2016; Elez, 2014). For those who are able to overcome the aforementioned barriers and are eligible to seek professional employment in their field of expertise, there still remains the significant challenge of becoming proficient in a job search process that may not resemble the professional culture in their home country (Chen, 2008; Kennedy & Chen, 2012).
Government-funded immigrant service-providing organizations in Canada are responsible for offering settlement guidance to immigrants and refugees, including job search support. Employment counsellors within these organizations, who are tasked with providing career counselling to skilled immigrants, walk a fine line between educating their clients and invalidating their experiences. Nevertheless, employment counsellors are likely to have little exposure to research and formal training regarding multicultural counselling best practices (Hansen, 2003). In addition, despite what may be the intentions of employment counsellors to empower skilled immigrants by highlighting their international experience and cultural diversity as assets, employers in Canada often
discount these assets viewing them instead as indicators of unfamiliarity with Canadian workplace culture, which in turn make them apprehensive about hiring skilled immigrants.
Facing rejection by employers, along with having to adapt to an inflexible workplace culture that is likely to differ from that in their home country, may foster a sense of betrayal and a loss of professional identity in skilled immigrants (Sinacore, Park-Saltzman, Mikhail, & Wada, 2011; Westwood & Ishiyama, 1991; Yost & Lucas, 2002). Despite the fact that the poor professional outcomes of skilled immigrants are a longstanding issue in Canada, there is little research on how skilled immigrants make sense of their shifting identities in the context of establishing their careers in Canada. Furthermore, counsellors are not equipped to deal with the negative emotional outcomes that may accompany the disappearance of skilled immigrants’ professional identity.
More research is needed to better understand how to best support skilled immigrants without invalidating their experiences. In addition, knowledge mobilization is required to translate findings from said research into training best practices that enable counsellors to provide culturally sensitive counselling, as well as be able to respond to the needs of clients experiencing emotional difficulties resulting from lack of success in securing professional employment. Furthermore, employers in Canada need to be more flexible and open-minded about what it means to be ‘professional’, how a candidate should present in an interview, and how a resume should be written amongst other things.
The rigid notions held by employers in Canada about how a job seeker should present, compounded with counsellors who are ill equipped to support the diverse needs of skilled immigrants, is standing in the way of our country being more economically prosperous and having a workforce that is more competitive on a global scale. The unemployment and underemployment of skilled immigrants further foster stereotypes and contribute to societal discourses of discrimination that are not coherent with our national identity and perpetuate the disadvantaged status of minorities in Canada.
David Marulanda is a graduate student in counselling psychology at the University of Calgary. Prior to returning to school, David spent four years working as a settlement and job search counsellor helping immigrants and refugees reestablish their lives in Canada. Through his graduate research, David hopes to enhance our understanding of the lives of immigrants in Canada.
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