Social Work Migration Project

Amy Fulton’s Doctoral Research

Migrant Social Workers’ Experiences of Professional Adaptation in Alberta, Canada: A Gender-Based Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis

Social workers are part of the global trend of migration and labour force mobility, and as such encounter numerous opportunities and challenges while adapting to their workplaces and professional cultures once they begin to practice in their new contexts. A limited body of research investigates migrant social workers’ firsthand experiences of professional adaptation. Past studies have established that there are gender-based differences in the social locations, perceived levels of discrimination, family roles, levels of labour market exclusion, and labour market entry experiences between male and female migrants. However, the emerging literature has so far lacked a gender-based analysis of the experience of professional migration among social workers.

In Canada, migration policies promote skilled migration, as internationally educated professionals are highly valued for their contributions to Canadian society and the economy. Within Canada, Alberta represents a unique sociopolitical climate, economy, demographic profile, as well as a distinctive migration and social work practice context and therefore, professional adaptation of migrant social workers within this context warrants explicit attention. Alberta is unique in that it is home to the highest level of population growth in Canada, it features a thriving labour market with a high rate of matching qualifications-to-jobs for immigrants working in regulated professions and has the highest overall labour force participation and employment rates of immigrants among all provinces in Canada. Long-term projections suggest that Alberta’s population will continue to grow at a steady pace, with international migration becoming a major population driver, which, in turn, will expand the ethnocultural diversity of the province. Similarly, the increased international migration of social workers is predicted to continue, suggesting that this is an important issue for study. Alberta is an ideal research setting to begin this investigation.

Grounded in a framework of intersectionality and post-colonial feminist theories, the purpose of Fulton’s doctoral study is to develop enhanced understanding of the experience of professional adaptation of migrant social workers in the Albertan context through a gender-based analysis. The aim is to answer the following research question: How do female and male migrant social workers in Alberta experience the professional adaptation to practice in their new context?

Due to the exploratory nature of her doctoral research, Fulton is employing the qualitative methodology of interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA). The focus of the study is on understanding subjective experiences, perceptions and interpretations through in-depth analysis of single cases by drawing on key principles associated with hermeneutics, idiography and phenomenology. The primary units of analysis will be transcripts from individual in-depth qualitative interviews (n= 8) with internationally educated social workers that have migrated to Alberta within the last decade. The transcripts will be obtained through a ratified formal data sharing agreement with the larger national SSHRC funded investigation of professional migration among social workers in Canada. The study will have implications for social work education programs, employers, governments, and social work professional regulators.

Fulton’s doctoral research is being conducted at the University of Calgary under the supervision of Christine Walsh (University of Calgary) and John R. Graham (Florida Atlantic University). Annie Pullen Sansfacon (University of Montreal), principal investigator for the national SSHRC funded study and co-investigator Marion Brown (Dalhousie University) are also committee members.