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One Stride Closer: Psychological Considerations of the Immigrant Career Transition

by Basak Yanar

Each year Canada welcomes some 200,000 immigrants – over half of which are “skilled” – eager to develop successful careers in their new country.1 Government initiatives and settlement agencies provide a wide array of programs designed to facilitate their entrance into the Canadian labour market. Although 80% of Canada’s immigrants succeed in finding full-time employment after two years of arrival2, this career transition is often defined by underemployment, casual and part-time positions, forced occupational change, and/or lower levels of income.

Although skilled immigrants gradually improve their professional standing and income levels, the psychological effects of this career transition can have profound impacts on their job prospects and long-term emotional well-being. Understanding these challenges may help career counsellors, vocational psychologists, and settlement workers better support successful and healthy career transitions. Burnout and professional identity loss are two areas to consider when providing such support.


Upon arrival in Canada, many skilled immigrants are armed with glowing optimism and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, this is not always enough to kick-start their new careers.

Instead, many accept temporary bridge positions or are required to re-train. What was only expected to take a year or two, can sometimes take up to three or four years, or more. In the meantime, life goes on: bills need to be paid and financial pressures mount.

Over time, optimism turns to frustration and the enthusiasm fades. For many, the reality of life as a skilled immigrant in Canada inevitably sets in. It’s more of a marathon than a sprint and each challenge must be seen as a milestone capable of bringing quality employment one stride closer to reality.

Helping immigrants to adopt a long-term perspective to career success, through strategic career planning and developing coping skills, can foster the sustained resolve needed to succeed professionally.

Professional Identity Loss

Along with the loss of culture that invariably accompanies the newcomer experience, skilled immigrants can also face professional identity loss due to the devaluation of their foreign credentials.

The social and professional networks that once validated immigrants’ professional identities cease to exist when they find themselves in an environment with new social structures and professional boundaries. That which was established, professionally, has been at best drastically altered, and at worst, entirely lost.

Recognizing and accepting this identity loss is a first step in the process of rebuilding a professional identity in Canada. One way of facilitating this might be to provide skilled immigrants a safe environment to share their stories, struggles and triumphs with one another. After honoring what has been lost, guiding immigrant professionals towards new ways of rebuilding their credentials can help them to recover a sense of self-worth.

Obtaining a Canadian certificate, for example, is often a valuable step in rebuilding a professional identity. Furthermore, establishing networking and mentorship opportunities can reinforce professional immersion, ongoing learning and open doors to hidden job markets.

This article has explored two psychological areas to consider when assisting immigrants with their career transition. It is through a close examination of the psychological health factors at play that one is able to more fully appreciate this complex transformation. The road to professional fulfillment is long and unyielding, and so must be the approach with which it is met.


1 Statistics Canada (2006). Canadian Census.
2 Statistics Canada (2003). Longitudinal Survey of immigrants to Canada: Process, progress, and prospects.

Basak Yanar is a PhD candidate at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, and a participant in CERIC’s Graduate Student Engagement Program. Her research interests include the psychological aspects of career transition. She has published articles on training and performance management, is an associate with AFCAR Leadership & Professional Development, and works with Rotman School’s Women in Business Initiative.


Basak Yanar

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