Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Impact of Canadian Postsecondary Education on Occupational Prestige of Highly Educated Immigrants

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Impact of Canadian Postsecondary Education on Occupational Prestige of Highly Educated Immigrants

Article excerpt

OVER THE PAST two decades, the international mobility of highly skilled workers led to large migration flows toward developed countries. To maintain rapid economic growth and ensure social equality, immigrant-receiving countries face unique challenges of integrating newcomers into their societies. Canada in particular attracted large inflows of highly educated immigrants whose economic status in the host country does not correspond to their education and premigration work experiences (Grant and Nadin 2007). Economic outcomes of highly educated immigrants to Canada are poorer than in other major immigrant-receiving countries such as the United States or Australia (Bonikowska, Hou, and Picot 2011; Hawthorne 2007). Research also shows that recent immigrants to Canada typically experience lower levels of economic success than native-born workers (Reitz 2007). Underemployment is particularly vexing to immigrant workers with high skill levels who are relegated to low-paying jobs for which they are overqualified and where their skills are either poorly utilized or mismatched (Gilmore 2009). Long periods of underemployment and a gradual devaluation of the educational qualifications and professional expertise acquired in their countries of origin effectively frustrate the occupational aspirations of many newcomers (Grant and Nadin 2007). More than 50 percent of the skilled immigrants in Grant's (2005) study who experienced problems with credentials and work experience recognition, report being disappointed, sad, hurt, frustrated, and depressed.

Much research on immigrant settlement in Canada has occurred within a human capital framework, with the earnings of immigrants being a primary focus of research (Worswick 2004). Sociologists adopt a broader approach to measuring labor market integration and develop socioeconomic scales (e.g., Blishen index) that rank occupations on the basis of education and income (Blishen and McRoberts 1976). Yet, some authors argue that jobholders' long-term economic prospects are better predicted by the social status of their occupation (Featherman and Hauser 1976). Thus, rather than using socioeconomic scales, many researchers opt for an "occupational prestige" ranking, which reflect the perceived social standing individuals assign to an occupation relative to others (Treiman 1977). While employment status and earnings are essential ingredients for settling in a new country, we contend that these indicators only partially capture the labor market experiences of large numbers of highly educated immigrants, who are determined to regain their premigration professional and social status.

The particular role that occupational prestige plays in the settlement success of immigrants has not been extensively examined, but preliminary work by Frank (2009) suggests its importance to their perceived success in the labor market and society. To the extent occupational prestige matters to immigrants' sense of employment success and satisfaction, it is important to examine the strategies they adopt to enhance employability and improve occupational prestige--upon (or soon after) arrival in Canada. There is evidence that when neither income nor occupational prestige is realized, many newcomers attempt to enhance existing qualifications by acquiring Canadian educational credentials: about two-thirds of newcomers to Canada in the early 2000s had plans to pursue education or training (Statistics Canada 2005). Research also shows that those most likely to use the Canadian postsecondary education (PSE) system were immigrants who already had obtained university qualifications in their countries of origin but who were unable to find work commensurate with their qualifications (Adamuti-Trache and Sweet 2010; Green and Green 1999).

Previous research on the relationship between educational credentials and labor market integration has typically compared PSE participants and nonparticipants. Yet, adult immigrants' strategies to gain host-country credentials involve more differentiated use of the Canadian PSE system. …

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