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Survival employment’: Gender and deskilling among african immigrants in Canada

Recent research points to a growing gap between immigrant and native-born outcomes in the Canadian labour market at the same time as selection processes emphasize recruiting highly educated newcomers. Drawing on interviews with well-educated men and women who migrated from countries in sub-Saharan Africa, this paper explores the gendered processes that produce weak economic integration in Canada. Three-quarters of research participants experienced downward occupational mobility, with the majority employed in low-skilled, low-wage, insecure forms of survival employment”. In a gendered labour market where common demands for “Canadian experience” “Canadian credentials” and “Canadian accents” were uneven across different sectors of the labour market women faced particular difficulties finding “survival employment”; in the long run however women’s greater investment in additional post-secondary education within Canada placed them in a somewhat better position than men. The policy implications of this study are fourfold: first we raise questions about the efficacy of Canadian immigration policies that prioritize the recruitment of well-educated immigrants without addressing the multiple barriers that result in deskillling; second we question government policies and settlement practices that undermine more equitable economic integration of immigrants; third we address the importance of tackling the “everyday racism” that immigrants experience in the Canadian labour market; and finally we suggest the need to re-think narrowly defined notions of economic integration in light of the gendered nature of contemporary labour markets and immigrants’ own definitions of what constitutes meaningful integration.