Focus On
Five ethnically different women

The different immigration experiences of women and men

Monday, March 08, 2021 @ 12:50 PM | By Kelly Goldthorpe and Amy Mayor


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Kelly Goldthorpe
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Amy Mayor
Women and men move from different parts of the world to start a new life in Canada all the time. But the immigration experiences of women and men differ in terms of how they apply and what their settlement trajectory looks like. It is therefore important to understand how gender interacts with immigration and understand that gender can affect type of migration, access to services and economic integration. Failure to address these differences can perpetuate inequality and exacerbate the risks and vulnerabilities that immigrant women face.

In 2019, Canada welcomed 341,180 new immigrants to the country. This was the largest number of new admissions in recent history. Nearly 60 per cent of new immigrants came under the economic class. The family class represented about 26 per cent of immigrants and refugees comprised 14 per cent.

Women accounted for half of the new immigrants admitted to Canada in 2019. However, broken down into different categories of immigration, women comprised 47 per cent of the skilled economic class but 58 per cent of the caregiver class. Women were less likely to be the principal applicant in the economic class than men. Women accounted for 27 per cent of the business class such as self-employed, startup visa and Immigrant Investor Venture Capital Program. In contrast, women made up 58 per cent of those who arrived under family reunification — or a sponsorship program.  

Although immigration policy and the Express Entry system do not explicitly differentiate between men and women, it is evident that there are gender differences in who applies and under what conditions they are accepted. Among women who received invitations to apply in the Express Entry system, the most frequent occupation was administrative assistant, compared with men, which was software engineer. Among those who received arranged employment points, the most common occupations for women were food service supervisor and cook. In comparison, the most common occupation for men were software engineers and computer programmers. Although the points system is in theory gender-neutral, in practice, gender biases reveal themselves in the economic outcomes of immigrant women compared to immigrant men.

Despite the need for skilled professionals to meet labor demands, research suggests that many skilled immigrants face deskilling, downward career mobility, underemployment, unemployment and talent waste. Immigrants may find themselves in low-skilled occupations that are not commensurate to their education and prior experience. Skilled immigrant women also face additional gendered disadvantages, including a disproportionate domestic burden, interrupted careers and gender segmentation in occupations. As well, immigrants are often found working in jobs with greater COVID-19 exposure as they are likely employed in front-line, essential service jobs.

The pandemic has had a disproportionately negative impact on women, as women are the majority of the cleaners, personal support workers, domestic workers and cashiers who are putting their lives at risk during the pandemic for the benefit of Canadians. The pandemic has pushed women, both immigrant and non-immigrant, towards unemployment, lower-skilled or unstable employment. It has intensified the social, economic and health risks that women, particularly those without immigration status, face due to lack of access to health care, poor working conditions, employer abuse and exploitation and the stress of living in constant fear of deportation. As well, the pandemic has heightened the pre-existing crisis of gender-based violence.

Foreign workers or those without immigration status may stay in abusive relationships with their employer or sponsor. The fear of deportation is used as a tool of power and control by abusers and may prevent women from coming forward to report violence or abuse. To address employer abuse of foreign workers, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) introduced the Open Work Permit for Vulnerable Workers to allow workers to leave abusive situations quickly and transition to a new job as well as maintain their immigration status.  

In August 2020, IRCC announced a permanent residency pathway for refugee claimants in response to public pressure that “guardian angel” pandemic workers — many of whom were women refugee claimants — be recognized for their work in health care. Under this measure, refugee claimants across the country who are working on the front lines providing direct care to patients in health-care institutions will be able to apply for permanent residence if they meet the criteria.

Women migrate for diverse reasons, including gender itself. Women may be “pushed” to migrate due to situations like war or violence. Or they are “pulled” for employment, education or family reasons. Immigration policy impacts the immigration experience between women and men differently, even where policy is silent on gender. Immigration programs must be responsive to the different lived experiences of immigrant men and women.

Kelly Goldthorpe is an immigration lawyer at Green and Spiegel, LLP. Amy Mayor is an articling student at the firm.

Photo credit / Ponomariova_Maria ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

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