What experiences are skilled immigrants to Canada facing as they try to put their skills to work? Canada’s immigration model – a merit-based system that aims to prioritize skills gaps in the labour market – is at the heart of a new research project being led by Trent University Durham Greater Toronto Area associate professor of Social Work, Dr. Marina Morgenshtern.
“Our project takes a look at the journeys of immigrants in securing professional employment, which include experiences of both empowerment and exclusion. We wanted this research to inform the [community of Durham’s] EDI initiatives, to inform practice of newcomer advisories and welcome centers, and to educate about immigrant experiences,” explains Professor Morgenshtern. This project was developed and launched with former Trent Durham professor, Dr. Dalon Taylor (now a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University), Trent graduate student, Uzma Danish, and Dr. Gabriela Novotna of the University of Regina.
Providing a voice for skilled immigrants to address gaps in the system
“Take a Walk in My Shoes” undertook a photovoice methodology – providing cameras to a small group of new immigrants living in the Durham region to take photographs that document their experiences through storytelling. Each participant submitted photos and provided reflections, following which they would take part in an interview with the research team, discussing the challenges they faced, how they handled them, and also to share what employers and policymakers should know about the processes.
These photographs and reflections were compiled into a photobook to share with the community, including immigrant voices in critical dialogue about integration—exploring their experiences from their point of view, identifying gaps in employment services, and informing best practices for service.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” explains Prof. Morgenshtern. “Going forward, this facilitates a more inclusive and equitable approach to immigrant integration, informed by the lived experiences of immigrants and not only by the expertise of politicians and practitioners who may have never experienced immigration or any social transition.”
Driving systemic change: Society can work together on a solution
Prof. Morgenshtern describes hearing from the participants that existing opportunities for immigrant employment integration (including internships, resumé writing, and employment search services) have been marked by a variety of experiences including rejection, judgement, exploitation, and misrecognition. Further, skilled immigrants also face multiple challenges to find meaningful learning opportunities, create strong networks, and address bureaucratic demands.
Prof. Morgenshtern stresses that the participants exercised extraordinary strengths, extra effort, perseverance, flexibility, self-confidence, hope, and positive outlook to address marginalization but also notes that, “instead of calling those who are dealing with systemic marginalization ‘resilient’, we want to invite society to search for solutions.”
The research team is excited about the project’s knowledge mobilization potential, noting that there is power in storytelling. The project provides opportunities for driving systemic change – by improving amenities, better supporting skilled immigrants in navigating services, and showing the region ways that services can be improved to transform the integration experience.