Immigrant Job Hunting, Labour Market Experiences, and Feelings about Occupational Satisfaction in New Zealand: An Exploratory Study

Article excerpt

We investigated how an integrated model of often under- or un-employed immigrants' (a) job-hunting behaviours pre-interview, (b) positive behaviours used at interview, (c) cognitive flexibility, (d) acculturation style, and (e) acculturation 'fit' between (d) and employers' preferred style of acculturation for immigrants to adopt, predict how close immigrants come to finding full employment; and how this proximity to full employment may relate to broader feelings about occupational life. Seventy predominantly skilled immigrants to New Zealand provided indices of (a) to (d) through a sample survey, whilst (e) was measured with the added assistance of 20 experienced recruitment agencies, interviewed by telephone. Path analysis suggested that feelings about occupational life are related to proximity to full employment, which is itself predicted by a combination of (a) and (d), but not (b), (c) or (e). Links between proximity to employment and feelings about occupational life in New Zealand were unexpectedly negative, but only moderately stable. Our findings may challenge some of the received wisdom in the vocational literature, but are nonetheless consistent with implicit prejudice from prospective employers, and with a lived vocational experience of relative deprivation amongst immigrants themselves.

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The world today is increasingly characterised by movement of people and skill, via professionally skilled emigrants and immigrants, from one economy to another (Carmon, 1996). New Zealand is, hypothetically, part of this knowledge exchange, in that skilled immigrants are encouraged to enter the country through a system of points awarded for qualifications, years of on-job experience, and professional qualifications (New Zealand Immigration Service, 2002). Yet such initiatives lose their value if the same immigrants face barriers to full (i.e., appropriate) employment, for instance through prejudice and discrimination, once they arrive here and as such cannot fully use their skills (Carr, 2004). Our research explores such challenges in the employment market psychologically, through the eyes of immigrants themselves. We also include observations from the perspective of potential employers. Principally however, we seek to identify (i) subjective barriers and facilitators to full employment, and (ii) how the human factors and perceptions in (i) may relate to feelings about occupational life in New Zealand.

Highly Skilled Immigrants

Globally, under-employment and unemployment of immigrants is relatively common, even when they are highly skilled (International Labour Organization, 2004). Immigrant underemployment and unemployment like this is now widely recognised in the global context, and in the substantial literature on migration and development economics, where it is termed "brain waste" (Mahroum, 2000). In Canada for example, Aycan & Berry (1996) found that only 30.9% of their skilled immigrants from Turkey had found satisfactory work, with 36.4% being unemployed and 32.7% currently underemployed. In New Zealand, Oliver (2000) found over half of a sample of 39 professional immigrants had lowered their occupational status after moving to New Zealand, even after undertaking further occupational training. In a further New Zealand study, only 35% of skilled immigrants from Asia were in full time employment, 13% were in part time employment, 10% were in self-employment, and 42% were unemployed, after 2 years in the country (Chart, 2001). Even after a skilled job is found, New Zealand research by Winkelmann (1998) has found income differentials remain between immigrant workers and their New Zealand born counterparts.

Census data in New Zealand also reveals that immigrants often (a) have lower labour force participation than the New Zealand born population (particularly amongst immigrants from Asia and the Pacific), and also (b) tend to earn less income than New Zealand born employees (New Zealand Immigration Service, 2003). …