The Employment Experiences of Canadian Refugees: Measuring the Impact of Human and Social Capital on Quality of Employment *

By Lamba, Navjot K. | The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, February 2003 | Go to article overview

The Employment Experiences of Canadian Refugees: Measuring the Impact of Human and Social Capital on Quality of Employment *


Lamba, Navjot K., The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology


THE RECENT GROWTH OF REFUGEE POPULATIONS across Canada has prompted considerable research concerning successful resettlement. One of the first steps toward this end is for newcomers to establish stable and meaningful employment. As a refugee status implies, however, many refugees enter Canada with limited opportunities to reproduce a lifestyle similar to or better than one that was experienced in their former country. Problems with foreign credential recognition, or lost documentation verifying the occupational and educational status of refugees are common dilemmas encountered in the employment adjustment process. To compensate for this, refugees no doubt turn to their immediate social networks, or what has been referred to as social capital (Loury, 1977; Bourdieu, 1985; Coleman, 1990; Portes, 1998), to aid them. In particular, family networks, service providers, sponsors and ethnic-group members are the first sources of aid refugees seek out when they attempt to find employment.

Taking into account the value of their former employment and education, current English-language proficiency, and the number of months of training/education received upon arrival in Canada (or potential human capital), (1) this paper examines the relative worth of network ties in achieving successful employment outcomes. As an interpretive framework, Giddens' structuration theory is used to understand how these potential forms of capital function in an employment context. From this perspective, potential human capital and social ties are viewed as ever-evolving structures that may enable or constrain refugees in the resettlement process. Given that their human capital may be ineffective or constrain employment success, can refugees' social networks compensate for this potential loss? Or, conversely, would certain social networks also constrain or limit refugees in achieving successful employment outcomes?

Beyond the impacts of capital, this study recognizes that a refugee's capital power is significantly dependent upon a range of additional factors, such as gender, age, region of origin, length of residence in Canada, foreign credential recognition, and/or experiences of discrimination. Thus, employing multiple regression analysis as its main strategy, this study controls for a range of potential predictors of employment quality to isolate the relative impacts of potential forms of human and social capital.

Review of the Literature

Research has identified a range of factors determining the employment success of newcomers to Canada. Knowledge of the English and French languages, recognition of foreign credentials, level and type of education, work experience, length of residence in the receiving society, age and sex are among the key predictors of employment status, career development and income level (Hem, 1993; Haines, 1996; Pendakur and Pendakur 1997). Furthermore, Pendakur and Pendakur's (1997) study of Canadian immigrants reveals that knowledge of both official languages (English and French) acts as a valuable form of human capital. That is, having knowledge of both English and French produces better labour market outcomes than being proficient in English or French only.

Piche, Renaud and Gingras (1997) offer several noteworthy findings about employment adjustment among newcomers in Quebec. Factors such as age, sex, education and work experience were found to significantly influence income levels and socio-economic status. In particular, they found that, in addition to work experience, being young and male facilitates finding a first job (Piche et al., 1997). In addition, as duration of residence increases, Piche et al. (1997) suggest that immigrants develop strategies, such as establishing effective network structures, to improve their employment opportunities.

Several factors that may prevent newcomers from achieving their employment goals are also part of the adjustment process. For example, a recent study released by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (Kunz, Milan and Schetagne, 2001) supports the position that subtle forms of discrimination, such as not being considered for a promotion or being excluded from the "inner circle" at their place of employment, can seriously undermine career advancement. …

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