Academic Literature

Immigrants’ lack of economic success | Skilled immigrants do not communicate the realities back home

Skilled immigrants are often the first in their family to come to Canada, and they come alone, said Walsworth. “They’re incredibly brave” but they appear not to be communicating the realities of life, including the challenge of finding employment in their chosen field, with friends and family in their home country.

In an effort to get to the root of why they appear so unprepared, Walsworth and his colleague and wife Somerville, an assistant professor of sociology and associate member in the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, devised a study to survey university students in India. The survey explored what they know about life in Canada, how long they expect finding a job will take, what they expect to earn and even if they would ever see themselves taking a lesser job.

For Walsworth, whose research centres on labour markets, and Somerville, who explores identity across borders, “this issue is the meeting place of our work.”

After three years of planning, Walsworth, Somerville and their four boys aged 18 months to seven years left for south India last December. Their plan was to make their way north visiting universities and surveying 200 of the best students in the country, those most likely to immigrate. By the end of the trip three months later, they had stopped at more than 15 campuses in Trivandrum, Bangalore, Margoa, Mumbai and Delhi, and had mastered the art of conducting their survey.

The first hurdle was getting onto Indian campuses, said Walsworth, but identifying themselves as professors from Canada opened many doors. Then it was a matter of “hanging out in front of buildings and approaching students” but that didn’t prove to be too successful.

“At first I’d go alone but I guess I’m not that approachable. Then we tried all of us going together. Essentially we used the kids as bait,” he said, “because blond-haired, blue-eye children hold something of a fascination in India. They really broke down borders and gave us a chance to say a few lines.”

The combination of children and white university professors was almost irresistible, and Walsworth and Somerville found themselves warmly welcomed. They specifically targeted schools where the students’ degrees made them relatively mobile – agriculture, business, engineering and social science schools – and ended up completing 500 surveys “although the students would do the survey with the understanding we could talk a bit afterward.”

The survey data is not yet compiled but Walsworth and Somerville did make some initial observations. The students were fascinated by western culture, he said, “by the MuchMusic culture and the stories of wealth, but the thought they’ll come to Canada and drive a cab or clean hotel rooms is absurd.”…

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