New study hopes to hear from immigrant professionals on career challenges and experiences

Cesa Suva with The Immgration Education Society says immigrant professionals often bypass agencies other newcomers come to rely on to get them started.  (Dan McGarvey/CBC - image credit)
Cesa Suva with The Immgration Education Society says immigrant professionals often bypass agencies other newcomers come to rely on to get them started. (Dan McGarvey/CBC - image credit)

A new study by The Immigrant Education Society (TIES) — with help from universities in B.C. and the United States — wants to hear from immigrant professionals in Calgary to make sure they're getting the supports they need and to help agencies better understand their experiences.

While many immigrants and refugees need extensive help and support when they arrive in Canada, many with good English language skills, education and established careers don't pass through the doors of settlement agencies.

But that group can also face hurdles when they arrive here, even though they may be better prepared.

"They're not accessing services that we offer, that's why we wanted to do a study as to why," said Cesar Suva, vice president of research and program development at TIES.

Suva said there's a big focus on basic language skills, resume workshops and programs to integrate immigrants and refugees at newcomer agencies, which the professional class of immigrants often feel they don't need.

But he said there are still big challenges.

Many people from the IT industry and other sectors might already have jobs waiting for them in Alberta, but just as many struggle to find jobs that match their experience and expectations when they get here.

"It's called decredentialization," said Suva. "Their credentials aren't recognized. Things like their education and their experience aren't recognized. It's a very common experience."

"They're typically under-employed or have to make a shift into another field," he said.

That can leave highly educated immigrants working low-paying, entry-level jobs, instead of being employed in the same positions they might have held in their home countries.

Bryan Labby
Bryan Labby

"There's an opportunity for organizations like ours, but we have to know how to help because we can't typically help them the way we help other immigrants, like helping them rebuild their network, connect with other professionals in their field and help them with a better understanding of what's required, in terms of getting new credentials they need in regulated professions," Suva said.

The TIES study, a collaboration between that organization, the University of British Columbia and the University of Michigan, wants to hear from those immigrants by asking them to take part in online or in-person interviews to share their experiences and help organizations improve their supports and understanding of their needs.

"They are overlooked in the sense we assume things are going well because they have education and skills and they tend to not seek services," said Odessa Gonzalez Benson, a professor at the University of Michigan.

Benson said while professionals from other countries aren't as vulnerable as other types of newcomers and immigrants, they are also not on a level playing field with their peers and can face issues like discrimination, being passed over for promotions or a lack of leadership development and career opportunities.

"It can also be cultural. Perhaps they don't see themselves as qualified for some jobs? You have doctors becoming nurses, lawyers becoming paralegals, nurses becoming nursing assistants, because there's often no meaningful transfer of credentials or support," she said.

The TIES study will run until 2024 and is funded by the federal government.

It's hoped the findings and data that result from the study could also help shape future government policy and programs.