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.
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."
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.
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."
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.
Another significant factor influencing the experiences of skilled migrants is the framework for recognising skills. Although deskilling is a common experience among all migrants, women face a particularly high level of deskilling. One study
|Percentage of women (15-64) in jobs for which they are overqualified by birth status 2003-2004|
|Source: Table I.16 SOPEMI 2006|
Moreover, the level of 'brain-waste', i.e. under-use of the qualifications that migrants possess, is higher for women who migrated from non-OECD countries than for those who migrated within the OECD (see Table above). Within Europe, women migrants from the Eastern European accession countries were also affected by deskilling – the bulk of migrants since 2004 have filled low skilled jobs in old EU countries. They are now covered by EU regulations concerning the recognition of qualifications but it is not yet clear to what extent, as they improve their language skills and settle in, they will be able to move into more qualified employment reflecting their educational level.
This deskilling is particularly apparent in the highly feminised sector of nursing. A study of international nurse recruits in the UK, mainly from Europe, Australia, Africa and Philippines, found that many nurses felt that their skills were not appreciated or respected and that they faced racism and xenophobia.
Deskilling also affects doctors. In the UK this deskilling is institutionalised through the creation of a cadre of posts where doctors work in hospitals in a range of sub-consultant posts, where they have large service commitments but few career prospects. Overseas qualified doctors dominate in these grades. However, the level of deskilling is higher among migrant women who qualified outside the EEA. Thus, in 2001 in England, 42 per cent of all non-EEA qualified doctors in this category of posts were women, while only 22 percent of EEA doctors in this category were women.
Some of the factors that lead to the deskilling of migrants are common to both men and women. A project on skilled migrants commissioned by the European Commission in four European countries (Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK) developed a typology which reflected the degree to which migrants were able to find employment commensurate to their qualifications and educational level. The study found that individual, informal and institutional factors play their part. It concludes that qualified migrants living in EU countries are an underused resource for the labour market. The process of recognition of qualifications for non-EU countries is estimated by this research to be the major problem for labour integration and it is considered to be too complex, lengthy, costly and discouraging for qualified immigrants. Successful and effective formal channels for information about and access to employment are also lacking. Moreover, even professional women find that racist stereotyping influenced their ability to gain employment. The lack of support structures for newly arrived qualified immigrant forces them to rely on informal networks. The study also identified a lack of affordable, accessible and appropriate professional language courses for qualified immigrants. Qualified immigrants were found to have difficulties in finding proper housing, which produces problems of access to the labour market and fuels discrimination and social exclusion.
However, some of these factors influence women more than men. For instance, the ability to attend professional language courses may be more limited for women who have childcare responsibilities. The loss of social networks, personal and professional, after women migrate can be worse for women if family responsibilities prevent them from accessing new networks. Women´s need to re-skill or to get accreditation may also be given less priority by families when there is gender hierarchy within households. Eventually, lengthy periods out of the labour market and under-employment harm the self-esteem of such migrants and increase deskilling.
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