Breaking down barriers for immigrant professionals

Imagine, as a nurse, doctor or other professional, having to take a job you’re overqualified for because the qualifications you earned in another country aren’t recognized here in Canada. How would you deal with this lack of credential recognition? What coping strategies would you employ to help manage your perceived inexperience and professional work? What resources and services could you access to help in your career transition?

These are the types of questions human resources management Professor Jelena Zikic (right) of the School of Administrative Studies, Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies,.explores in her current research on immigrant professionals and the realities many immigrants face everyday. 

Immigrant professionals bring with them a wealth of knowledge, international networks, skills, experiences and languages that may benefit local companies and increase their global competitive advantage. Recent immigrants have accounted for 70 per cent of Canada’s net growth in the labour force during the past decade, and it is expected that within the next few years all net labour force growth will come from immigration. As Zikic notes, however, successfully integrating these immigrants into the country’s labour pool poses a challenge, since many encounter serious barriers in their search for employment and do not obtain desired career success in Canada.

“Immigrant workers are less likely to experience continued career success since they face longer periods of unemployment than Canadian-born workers,” says Zikic. “When they are employed, they are often underemployed, working in positions below their skill levels and earning lower wages. Their foreign credentials and experience are also discounted, which makes it very difficult for them to gain employment in positions that best suit them.”

Despite the growing importance of this issue for Canada, limited research has been done in this area. Zikic’s study, funded by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (2008-2011), will provide helpful insight into alleviating employment barriers and helping to ensure immigrant professionals are effectively integrated into the Canadian labour force with the goal of continued career success.

Her three main objectives include: 1) investigating the role of personal resources and motivations on immigrants’ coping and career success; 2) analyzing how organizational characteristics together with immigrant perceptions of the job search process and their career self-management activities may improve their career success; 3) identifying how organizations may support and facilitate immigrants’ integration into the labour market and continued career success through various workplace policies and practices.

Zikic takes a qualitative and quantitative approach to her research. She is conducting in-depth interviews, distributing questionnaires, networking with local organizations such as the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council and ACCESS Employment  – all in an effort to best capture the range of experiences and barriers immigrant professionals face. With the help of Progress Career Planning Institute, she recently surveyed a group of immigrants and presented the initial findings of her study at the Internationally Educated Professionals conference held in February in Toronto. Most recently, Zikic presented her research at the Engaging Research and Teaching Celebration held by Atkinson on April 14.

“I hope that my research will further our limited knowledge on coping and career adaptability and how these adaptation processes may allow individuals to manage immigration transition more successfully,” notes Zikic.

For more information on her study, e-mail