1.5.2009 | Von:
Eleonore Kofman and Parvati Raghuram

Issues facing skilled female migrants

Gender shapes the migration process in many different ways. In countries of origin gender discrimination in access to education can mean that fewer women than men have the ability to acquire the skills that are necessary to migrate under immigration schemes that favour skilled workers. On the other hand, gender discriminatory employment practices in origin countries can encourage some women to migrate in search of better prospects abroad.
Die Projektkoordanitorin, Lysann Gregor (Mitte) unterrichtet am Montag (20.02.2012) Sprachschülerinnen und Sprachschüler aus verschiedenen Nationen im Unterricht bei dem Bildungsdienstleister LOESERnet.com im sächsischen Freital. Sachsen dehnt sein Pilotprojekt für eine schnellere Anerkennung der Berufsabschlüsse von Zuwanderern aus. Skilled female migrants at German language classes in Saxony. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

In this section we focus on two specific issues that face skilled migrant women: the impact of immigration regulations on entry, and the extent to which skilled migrant women are actually able to use their skills in the labour market after entering the destination country.

Immigration Regulation Frameworks

Immigration regulations have considerable influence on skilled women´s ability to migrate. The classic states of immigration (Australia, Canada, USA) and the UK began to position themselves as from the late 1990s in the global competition for skilled labour, altering their immigration regulations to facilitate the entry of skilled migrants. However, the particular criteria adopted for filtering in people with skills have varied across different countries and have influenced migrant women differently.

In countries where the selection of migrants favours occupations, such as ICT, in which more males than females are generally trained and employed, a heavily masculinised skilled migration results. As a recent analysis of gender and skilled migration in New Zealand commented, "gendered migration may be more connected with the type of occupation the migrant is coming to New Zealand to work in rather than with the source country." [1]

In Europe, the recruitment of skilled labour has been far more limited but most countries have had a similar sectoral bias towards ICT, thus implicitly favouring men. The actual routes that have opened to these professionals vary. Some countries, such as Austria, Estonia, Greece, Italy and Latvia, impose quotas. [2] In others, such as Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden, labour demand drives recruitment. In many instances, schemes are largely aimed at the fields of ICT, engineering and research, as has been the case in Germany and France. In the Netherlands, a scheme to attract knowledge workers has also seen many of the permits being taken up by ICT workers. Sectoral bias in defining skills, therefore, remains a key issue influencing female skilled migration.

In Canada, education and language attainment reflecting human capital has replaced occupation as a filter for migration, and lead to an increase in the proportion of females in the skilled worker class migration category. This was particularly seen in the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), which came into force in 2002. Amongst skilled workers, 32% were women in 2007 compared to 24% in 2000. It appears that although women are still a minority amongst skilled worker principal applicants, this shift to a broader human capital approach is likely to be less disadvantageous to women as their educational qualifications increase and with continuing shortages in sectors such as care-work and nursing.

Amongst some of the European states with routes for the highly skilled, such as the UK, earnings prior to entry are important in deciding entry. Earnings in the destination country too are assessed for offering continuation of stay as in the British points based system. This criterion becomes relevant when gender-pay gaps are taken into consideration. Globally, the pay-gap between men and women averages 16%. In other words, women tend to earn, on average, 16% less than men with an equivalent job. In high-income countries such as the United States and Canada, the gap is often higher. In the UK, it has been shown that the gender pay gap increases as a person´s level of education increases and is higher in female-dominated occupations. Thus it is likely that women will be negatively influenced by the use of earnings as a criterion in admitting skilled migrants. These issues also affect countries such as Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands, where earnings are also used in defining highly skilled migrants. Besides the pay gap generally faced by women, skilled female migrants are to be found to a greater extent in the highly regulated and lesser remunerated sectors such as nursing, teaching and social work, which places them at an even greater disadvantage.

The only country that has begun to recognize the inherent gender-selectivity involved in skilled migration programmes is Canada. It has instituted a gender-based analysis (GBA) of immigration policy (as well as settlement and integration programmes), which is described as: "a process that assesses the differential impact of proposed and/or existing policies, programs and legislation on women and men. It makes it possible for policy to be undertaken with an appreciation of gender differences, of the nature of relationships between women and men and of their different social realities, life expectations and economic circumstances." [3]

Analyzing the gendered effects and outcomes of immigration policies requires full data sets and intensive qualitative research so that the effects of education, income, sectoral employment patterns and age, for instance, can be considered as they operate alongside gender. For instance, do women who take career breaks due to child-bearing and rearing find it harder to enter as skilled migrants, as work experience in the years prior to immigration is evaluated? The number of skilled female migrants can also vary according to nationality. For instance, there are more women in migrants streams from India than China but this can only be understood by studying gender and nationality simultaneously. Moreover, longitudinal data could help us understand the effect of economic factors in sending and receiving states on female skilled migration.


See Badkar et al. (2007).
See EMN (2007a).
See Kofman et al. (2005: 35-6).



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