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A Critical Analysis of the Use of Intersectionality Theory to Understand the Settlement and Integration Needs of Skilled Immigrants to Canada.


Canada is a nation built on successive waves of immigration. Canadian immigration policy has always viewed immigrants as key to nation building and the country's economic vitality. To this end, Canada has established clear goals to increase the influx of skilled immigrants (Sidney 2014; Walker 2008). For instance, between 2002 and 2014, Canada took 983,887 skilled immigrants under the Federal Skilled Worker Program and in 2016,59,999 skilled workers were accepted under this program (CIC 2015; Government of Canada 2017). In recent years, Canada has experienced a massive influx of highly-educated immigrants (Gauthier 2016). More than half of recent immigrants who landed in the five years prior to the 2016 Census had at least one university degree and 16.7% had master's or doctorate degrees. This percentage is more than two times higher than that of the Canadian-born population (Statistics Canada 2017). However, despite high education and skill levels, recent immigrants experience many obstacles to effective socioeconomic integration in the mainstream society (Reitz 2007). Perhaps, this is because there are complex factors behind the obstacles to successful settlement and integration of skilled immigrants (George and Chaze 2009). To remove or mitigate the obstacles, government agencies, immigrant serving organizations, funders, and advocacy groups promote social services and support that are more responsive to the specific needs of immigrant communities (Sakamoto, Chin, and Young 2010). In this investigation, we examine how intersec-tionality can be used to understand the settlement and integration needs of skilled immigrants in Canada. Based on a review of selected academic literature on inter-sectionality framework, we offer insights into how intersectionality theory can be applied in immigration research in order to better understand the experiences of skilled immigrants and to identify their needs in the context of their settlement and integration in Canada.


Intersectionality is an analytical approach to exploring gender, race/ethnicity, sexuality, and social class, as complex, intertwined, and mutually supplementary categories of oppression and social structures (Davis 2008; de los Reyes and Mulinai 2005). It is treated as a "systematic approach to understanding human life and behaviour that is rooted in the experiences and struggles of marginalized people" (Dill and Zambrana 2009, 4). Initially, intersectionality gained popularity in feminist research as a central way to understand how women are positioned within our systems of oppression, for example, those of class and race (Davis 2008). However, intersectionality is increas-ingly being applied to study social phenomena across a variety of disciplines (Berg 2010; Hankivsky and Cormier 2011; Mattsson 2014). Even though researchers agree that intersectionality provides a conceptual tool for theorizing identity and oppression (Mattsson 2014; Nash 2008), the perspective of intersectionality is used inconsistently. For instance, it has been described as a theory, a method, a perspective, a paradigm, a concept, a framework, or a lens (Carbin et al. 2013; Hulko 2009). The concept of intersectionality has been used to explicate multiple identities; interlocking systemic inequalities due to social structures; as well as various social, historical, and cultural discourses (Davis 2008; de los Reyes and Mulinari 2005; McCall 2005). Though intersectionality is still a developing field, much of the scholarly literature concerns the use of intersectionality theory to understand social differences (Campbell 2016). In reviewing the concept of intersectionality, scholars like Davis (2008), Hancock (2007), McCall (2005) and Prins (2006) have highlighted the theoretical needs that led to the emergence of intersectionality and the variations in its understanding and application (Choo and Ferree 2010).

The concept of intersectionality emerged as one of several responses to the social justice struggles of the twentieth century to claim a democratic and egalitarian society (Chun, Lipsitz, and Shin 2013). The concept emerged as a tool to counter multiple oppressions (Bilge 2013). Its earliest iterations illuminated the dangers posed by the elucidations of collective struggles for social justice as explained by single-axis approaches of analysis (Crenshaw 2011; Lipsitz 2011). Some scholars trace the origins of intersectional thoughts to the nineteenth century black American freedom movements (Eriksson-Zetterquist and Styhre 2007). However, the term "intersectionality" was coined by an African-American legal scholar, Kimberle Crenshaw, first in 1989 in her ground-breaking essay, "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics" and later in 1991 in another insightful essay, "Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Color." In her essays, Crenshaw (1989, 1991) uses the notion of intersectionality to explain how interactions of gender and race/ethnicity influence black women's access to the American labour market and how women, who are at the intersection of gender and race/ethnicity, experience marginalization in both analysis and politics. She suggests that intersections of various social identities greatly affect the lives of those who represent those social categories (Crenshaw 1989). Crenshaw (1989, 1991) argues that multiple marginalizations, such as those experienced by African-American women, could not be understood within the traditional boundaries of gender or race/ethnicity discrimination. They are mutually constituted and are not experienced separately, rather, they are single, synthesized experience (Crenshaw 1989, 1991). Therefore, the approaches that treat gender and race/ethnicity as distinct subjects of inquiry cannot explain how marginalized women are vulnerable to both grounds of discrimination (Bauer 2014; Dhamoon and Hankivsky 2011; Marfelt 2016). Crenshaw (1991) suggests that in the past, academic, political, and civil societal engagements were not mindful of the intersections of gender and race/ethnicity.

Crenshaw's (1989,1991) work is an empirically grounded analysis and noteworthy critique on the invisibility of Black women at the intersection of gender and race/ethnicity, and a significant commentary on identity politics, for its over-stabilization of discrete groups and categories. She provides an insight into how American antidiscrimination laws impeded efforts by Black women to secure better employment opportunities and how cumulative vulnerabilities of Black women/immigrant women of colour were not accounted for in activism and campaigns against rape and violence against women (Chun, Lipsitz, and Shin 2013; Walby, Armstrong, and Strid 2012). In Crenshaw's works, intersectionality reflects how things work rather than who people are. Her "focus on the intersections of race and gender only highlights the need to account for multiple grounds of identity when considering how the social world is constructed" (Crenshaw 1991, 1245).

Approaches to Intersectionality

Crenshaw's pioneering work in the field of intersectionality led to a plethora of research concerned with people socially positioned at the various points of intersections. McCall (2005) produced a comprehensive review of intersectional research and identified three distinct approaches to studying intersectionality: "anticategorical complexity", "intercategorical complexity", and "intracategorical complexity" (1773). She described how each of the three approaches understands and uses categories to explore and analyze the intersectional complexities of social life.

The anticategorical complexity approach deconstructs analytical categories. The premise of this approach is that social life is too irreducibly complex. It overflows with multiple and fluid determinations of subjects as well as structures. Therefore, fixed categories should be considered nothing else but social fictions that create inequalities while outlining differences (McCall 2005). For McCall (2005), this approach appears to be the most successful of all intersectional approaches as it prioritises flexibility over stability of categories.

The anticategorical approach rejects categories, as social categories are a reconstruction of history and contribute little understanding of the ways in which people experience society in current times. This approach calls into question the use of social categories as inequalities are defined by categories. One way to eliminate inequalities in society is to eliminate the social categories that are employed to section people into differing groups such as race, class, sexuality, or gender. Therefore, in the anticategorical approach, researchers avoid the use of categories of difference in order to capture the dynamism of diversity (McCall 2005; Tatli and Ozbilgin 2012).

The intercategorical complexity approach to intersectional analysis stands diagonally opposite to anticategorical complexity in that it entails that researchers conditionally employ existing analytical categories to explicate relationships of inequality among social groups and to analyze the changing configurations of inequality along multiple and conflicting dimensions (McCall 2005). The intercategorical complexity approach is guided by the notion that inequality exists within the society among the already constituted social groups and therefore, the emphasis is on using categories of difference strategically to explore inequalities. In this approach, social inequalities are employed as analytic categories to analyze inequalities across multiple dimensions and to measure the change in inequalities over time. The intercategorical complexity approach is useful in engaging with larger social structures that generate inequalities in society (McCall 2005).

McCall (2005) places the intracategorical complexity approach conceptually in the middle of the continuum, i.e., in the centre of anticategorical and intercategorical complexity approaches. Much the same way as the anticategorical complexity approach, the intracategorical complexity approach questions the boundary-making and boundary-defining process of discursive categories. However, it also shares the premise with intercategorical complexity as it acknowledges the traditional categories and focusses on the ways in which the social categories are produced and experienced in everyday life (McCall 2005). This approach is mainly adopted for giving voice to peculiar small and disadvantaged social groups which had not been previously analyzed, which are positioned at the complex and neglected social locations, or who are in positions of oppression (Hillsburg 2013; McCall 2005).

Key Assumptions of the Intersectional Framework

The intersectional framework rests on three central tenets: multiple systems of social stratification; interlocking systems of oppression and domination; and standpoint epistemology.

The intersectional framework for studying social phenomena assumes that our society has multiple systems of social stratification (Dill and Zambrana 2009) and that no social group is homogeneous (Stewart and McDermott 2004). Every group consists of individuals who experience reality in their own way. Individuals are ranked on a hierarchy, based on their social and economic status, which in turn affords them different quality and quantity of resources (Berg 2010).

The multiple systems of social stratification are believed to be interlocked, creating an overarching structure of domination and oppression (Weber 1998). Collins (1999) refers to it as a "matrix of domination" and Ritzer and Stepniski (2013) call it "vectors of oppression and privilege". Based on this assumption, every individual holds a simultaneous position in different systems of social stratification. Which means, an individual may simultaneously be an oppressor, or a member of a group that oppresses others, and an oppressed or a member of an oppressed group (Browne and Misra 2003). Since the systems of social stratification have historic roots, there is a considerable variation in terms of economic, political, and social powers. No one is ever just privileged or oppressed; all individuals possess varying amounts of penalties and privileges based on their group membership (Jordan-Zachery 2007; McCall 2005). For example, white women are oppressed for their gender but otherwise are a member of a privileged race/ethnicity.

According to standpoint epistemology, an individual's worldview is shaped by her/his standpoint in the matrix of domination. In other words, a person's unique world perspective and life-chances are influenced by her/his specific location on the matrix of domination rather than a single form of social stratification (Collins 1986; Demos and Lemelle 2009). Individuals are simultaneously situated within various systems of social stratification such as race, gender, or class; therefore, using a single system of stratification in the analysis without considering the standpoint on the matrix may lead to incomplete, or even incorrect conclusions about similarities and differences within and among groups (Ovadia 2001).

The three assumptions discussed above are key to exploring the importance of intersectionality and its contribution. Further in this paper, we will discuss the significance of these tenets in examining the experiences of skilled immigrants from an intersectionality perspective.


Although intersectionality is widely celebrated as feminism's greatest theoretical contribution to date (Bilge and Denis 2010; Denis 2008; McCall 2005; Nash 2008; Shields 2008; Yuval-Davis 2011), the notion of intersectionality introduced a new perspective for feminist and anti-racist scholars that shifted the focus away from intentional prejudice toward systemic dynamics and institutional power (Chun, Lipsitz, and Shin 2013). Early renditions of intersectionality encompassed gender, race/ethnicity, and class. Terms such as "the big three", "triple oppression", "triple jeopardy", "holy trinity" are frequently and interchangeably used to describe the issues specific to gender, race/ethnicity, and class (Anthias 2012; Fox and Jones 2013; Lewis 2009; Wilkinson 2003). However, the scholars argued that there certainly are more constructs than just these three that trigger oppression; therefore, it was not enough to focus on just gender, race/ethnicity, and class to analyze oppression (Anthias 2002; Yuval-Davis 2007). As a response, a multiplicative approach was developed to explicate how various societal influences may intersect with the individual's identity characteristics thus multiplying the disadvantages (Andersen 2005). Efforts were then directed to identify these characteristics of differences. Lutz (2002) proposes gender, sexuality, race, skin colour, ethnicity, nationality, class, culture, ability, age, sedentariness, origin, wealth, regionality, religion, and stage of social development as salient characteristics of difference (as cited in Yuval-Davis 2006). In addition, weight, accent, intonations, and gestures have also been identified as characteristics of difference (Ressia 2013).

Differently situated analysts understand and employ the ideas of intersectionality in diverse ways (Campbell 2016). The theory of intersectionality has evolved beyond its original tenets to become a multidimensional, open-ended concept that is widely used in different fields of social sciences (Choo and Ferree 2010; Ozbilgin et al. 2011; Yuval-Davis 2006). Some scholars have emphasized the underutilized potential in the concept of intersectionality and explored its application as a theoretical and methodological approach to inequality in empirical studies situated outside the sociology of gender (Choo and Ferree 2010). For instance, proponents of this usage argue that the use of intersectionality creates knowledge that is crucial to the work of policymakers and contributes to the efforts of social justice advocates and activists (Campbell 2016) as evidenced in North American and European policy frameworks with the shift in focus from gender equality towards multiple inequalities (Burkner 2012; Verloo 2006). The socio-cultural position of underprivileged groups is an increasingly important focus of research within an intersectionality lens (Burkner 2012) as it allows one to analyze the characteristics of difference between individuals and social groups within a wide range of contexts, disciplines, and locations (Ressia 2013). For example, researchers have employed intersectionality in policy oriented healthcare research for minority populations in Canada (e.g., Hankivsky et al. 2010; Pauly, McKinnon, and Varcoe 2009; Van Herk, Smith, and Andrew 2011); in analyzing the relationship between health and race/ethnicity and other systems of inequality (e.g., Viruell-Fuentes, Miranda, and Abdulrahim 2012; Weber and Fore 2007); in exploring the experiences of violence and discrimination in the lives of individuals involved in the sex trade (e.g., Benoit and McCarthy 2007; Hunt 2006); in sexuality and queer studies (e.g., Meyer 2012); in exploring the migration and integration experiences of immigrant workers in Canada (e.g., Atanackovic 2014); in evaluating skilled immigration policies in Europe (e.g., Kofman 2014); and in a critical analysis of the intersection of race and class in U.S. immigration law and its enforcement (e.g., Johnson 2009).


As in other disciplines, intersectionality is employed as a primary analytic approach in recent social work research to understand complex identities and to explain how people's living conditions are affected by the existing social structures (Fahlgren 2013; Mehrotra 2010; Murphy et al. 2009; Sawyer 2012). Intersectionality provides a useful analytical tool for social work, scholarship that can capture "dynamic power relations and oppression in a way that is sensitive to differences and oppression both within and among groups" (Mattsson 2014, 15). Mehrotra (2010) urges social work scholars, with various commitments and epistemological and ontological positions, to develop and apply a range of intersectional approaches of analysis, to articulate effectively the interconnection and interaction of multiple oppressions and identities in their scholarly work. Drawing on McCall's (2005) typology, she discusses how different approaches in intersectional analysis are used in social work scholarship. Mehrotra (2010) suggests that intercategorical approaches that operate with an assumption of discrete social categories are "consistent with the way in which social work has often relied on categories as a way to understand individuals and social groups, with an emphasis on recognizing their location within structures of oppression" (423). Therefore, she suggests they are often applied in quantitative, post-pos-itivist social work research. Intracategorical approaches focus on diversity within social groups and illuminate the lived experiences, multiple identities, and standpoints of people who are situated at the intersections of numerous oppressions and, as such, have mostly been used in qualitative social work research which focusses on marginalized groups in the society (Mehrotra 2010). Anticategorical approaches challenge the idea of social categories such as race, class, and gender and reject fixed categories in favour of fluidity. Anticategorical approaches are often used in social science and humanities with interpretive methodologies such as genealogy, decon-struction, and critical ethnography (McCall 2005). These approaches are less common in social work, "given disciplinary and professional commitments to practice, lived lives, and material realities that can be viewed as being in tension with such theoretical frameworks" (Mehrotra 2010, 424).


There is a significant body of research that focusses on settlement and integration issues of skilled immigrants in Canada (e.g., Banerjee and Phan 2014; Dean and Wilson 2009; Drolet, Hamilton, and Esses 2015; George and Chaze 2012; Houle and Yssaad 2010; Reitz, Curtis, and Elrick 2014). Scholarship in this field has primarily focused on issues concerning access to, and equality in employment, social and occupational mobility, identity and citizenship, and differences between the modes of migration and outcomes between different groups of migrants such as skilled immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers (Ressia 2013). However, this field of research has almost entirely refrained from using intersectionality as a main analytical framework. Several key studies highlight the issues faced by professionally trained, skilled immigrant workers in Canada, such as lack of recognition of foreign credentials; lack of recognition of previous work experience and demand for Canadian experience; lack of language skills; prejudices, stereotypes, and discrimination (e.g., Banerjee and Phan 2014; Drolet, Hamilton, and Esses 2015; Sakamoto, Chin, and Young 2010; Weiner 2008). These studies mainly concern the economic integration of skilled immigrants in general or employment related issues associated solely with gender (e.g., Gauthier 2016), race/ethnicity (e.g., Esses et al. 2007), and class (e.g., Reitz, Curtis, and Elrick 2014) of skilled immigrants.

Gender, race, and social class are considered as the markers most likely at the root of various inequalities in Canadian society (Wilkinson 2003). However, as discussed earlier in this paper, one of the key assumptions of intersectional framework is that no social group is homogeneous. Diversity exists within gender, race, and social class. Therefore, the settlement and integration needs of skilled immigrants in Canada cannot be understood by considering "the big three" alone. There are mutually interlocked multiple systems of social stratification that may create unique settlement and integration needs for professionally trained and highly educated skilled immigrants. To analyze their settlement and integration experiences, we need to understand the power structures within the larger social system that shape the outcomes for people at the margins of the society (Collins 2005; Weber 2010), in this case, skilled immigrants. For this, it is important to analyze the vectors of oppression and privilege that shape the experiences of skilled immigrants (Ritzer 2013). Many researchers and policymakers fail to fully engage in the examination of the intersections involving multiple categories of difference and their impact on the challenges faced by skilled immigrants in their effective settlement and integration in Canada. Thus, we need to understand how multiple differences operate within broader social perspectives. This requires a focus on intersectional approaches that will allow us to explore the impact of a full range of identity issues on the settlement and integration experiences of skilled immigrants. Intersectional analysis can highlight the interplay between strands of differences allowing us to examine the conditions of inequality and privilege or disadvantage in the settlement and integration of skilled immigrants in Canada. An intersectional perspective also allows policymakers and settlement service providers to target their services to those most in need while, at the same time, it provides researchers richer details to develop future studies examining similar issues (cf. Wilkinson 2003).

Emic Approach to Intersectional Analysis of Settlement and Integration Needs of Skilled Immigrants

Most intersectional studies examining the settlement and integration experiences of skilled immigrants take either an etic or an emic approach to conceptualize differences. The etic approach is considered to be the outsider's perspective of the research problem whereas the emic approach is the insider's perspective. In reference to the Bourdieuan theory of capitals (Bourdieu 1986, 1987), Tatli and Ozbilgin (2012) argue that the theory of capitals is, in essence, a theory of power and privilege. The authors then call for the emic approach to researching intersectionality even though the etic approach is the dominant approach to intersectional analysis. It is initiated with a pre-established, fixed number of social categories. The analysis remains focused on the pre-established categories and intersectionality is explored between them (Tatli and Ozbilgin 2012). For instance, some studies have explored two or more categories of cognitive and demographic differences together, such as education, skills, professional background, citizenship status, gender, ethnicity, and nationality to examine the settlement and integration experiences of skilled immigrants in Canada. For example, McCoy and Masuch (2007) studied immigrant women in non-regulated professions; Man (2004) studied highly educated, skilled, Chinese immigrant women; Dean and Wilson (2009) examined under/unemployed highly skilled immigrants; Gauthier (2016) studied highly skilled immigrant women; Esses et al. (2007) focused on visible minority immigrants; Newton, Pillay, and Higginbottom (2012) examined internationally educated immigrant nurses; and George and Chaze (2012) focused on internationally trained immigrant engineers. However, due to adopting the etic approach, most such analyses do not consider the intracategorical complexities within the categories. Further, these studies do not contemplate the marginalizing effects (privilege or disadvantage) of intracategorical diversity, thereby limiting the scope of exploring the experiences of skilled immigrants. In summary, the etic approach "lacks a sense of contextuality, [... ] leads to static accounts of diversity, [...] ignore[s] the dynamic nature of power and inequality [in] relations [,...and] produceis[s] flawed empirical, theoretical and political insights" (Tatli and Ozbilgin 2012,180-181). Perhaps, the etic approach is more prevalent in intersectional research on skilled immigrants as certain categories of difference such as gender, race/ethnicity, and class are commonly adopted in intersectionality studies; therefore, the salience of these categories is not contested. Besides, working with established parameters is both convenient and practical for analysis (Tatli and Ozbilgin 2012).

On the other hand, the emic approach is an emergent approach which we argue is more appropriate for researching the barriers for skilled immigrants. The emic approach starts with the specific context of the investigation, wherein, as a first step, a number of social categories are identified which may lead to privilege and disadvantage and which are considered salient in the literature. These salient categories are treated as emergent to capture the dynamism within the categories. The use of the emic approach to intersectionality in empirical settings is one mechanism of dealing with the complexity of diversity in skilled immigration and attend to the issue. The framework utilizing an emic approach to intersectionality can be used to systematically unpack the complexity of diversity and bring clarity and consistency in analyzing the settlement and integration needs of skilled immigrants. This framework may offer to minimize the a priori assumptions before the study begins and may allow for new explorations.

Tatli and Ozbilgin (2012) offer parallels between the emic approach and the intracategorial complexity approach developed by McCall (2005) in that it falls in the middle of the continuum of accepting (intercategorical) and rejecting (anticategorical) fixed categories. Unlike the intracategorical approach however, the emic approach does not reject categories of difference, nonetheless it is critical about the notion of fixed categories regardless of time and place. The emic approach is a bottom-up approach in which categories of difference are identified and adopted through analyzing power, privilege, and disadvantage in the specific context. In the emic approach the notion of diversity is not a signifier of all forms of differences, rather "it highlights the structural, contextual, historical and socially constructed nature of salient categories of diversity" (Tatli and Ozbilgin 2012, 189). Even though the starting point in the emic approach to intersectionality is identified as the investigation of relations of power, the process of identifying salient diversity categories occurs through the analysis of "temporal and geographical contextual relations of power, privilege, inequality and disadvantage" (Tatli and Ozbilgin 2012, 181).

Tatli and Ozbilgin (2012) translate the Bourdieuan theory of capitals (1986, 1987) to offer a framework for intersectional analysis of diversity at the workplace. We propose that the same framework could be applied to analyze the standpoint of skilled immigrants and to understand their settlement and integration needs. For instance, instead of adopting the prevalent approach of starting the analysis with pre-determined social categories (etic/intercategorical approach) such as gender, race/ethnicity, and class of skilled immigrants and exploring intersectionality among them, we can use an emic approach that recognizes the historical and geographical context of skilled immigration in Canada. In this way, Tatli and Ozbilgin's framework can be used to explore skilled immigrants' access to power and resources and their ownership of the same (different forms of capital) within the Canadian political, economic, and social structures. Subsequently, we can identify the social categories which create situations of power, privilege, and disadvantage for skilled immigrants in Canada. The framework could be applied to understand the level of individual capital skilled immigrants bring with them when they first arrive in Canada and the role of individual capital in shaping skilled immigrants' unique settlement and integration needs.

Categories of Difference in Skilled Immigration

Migration scholars have produced a substantial body of scholarship on gender and migration in the last few decades both in Canada and internationally (Donato et al. 2006). However, the discourse has either remained gender-blind or gynocentric, except for a very few androcentric studies (e.g., Duncan and Trejo 2012; Lin 2011). The available migration literature presents a major blind spot by neglecting the settlement needs or integration experiences of immigrant men. For example, feminist researchers have produced significant research on the condition of immigrant women in Canada; however, the condition of immigrant men has been subjected to far less examination. Gender is a relational notion. Engendering women's settlement experiences calls for engendering men's experiences too (Neumann 2011; Verdaguer 2009). However, one could also argue that most concurrent gender-neutral integration research has focussed on immigrant men as normative migrants without conceding it as being so (Wojnicka and Pustulka 2017). On the other hand, the research investigating the experiences of immigrant women largely focuses on socioeconom-ically disadvantaged immigrant women, women refugees, or asylum seekers. Other issues explored include gendered work and places of work. There is a dearth of research that examines the settlement experiences of skilled immigrant women who are educated, professional, and entrepreneurial (Hondagneu-Sotelo 2003; Meares 2010). Moreover, the research that examines the effects of migration on skilled immigrant women primarily focuses on employment issues (e.g., Maitra 2015; Man 2004; McCoy and Masuch 2007). The gender and skilled immigration scholarship has largely overlooked the impact of migration on family relationships; gendered societal norms and expectations about the role of men and women in the families, at work, and in other social spheres (Meares 2010).

Other than gender, migration studies concerning skilled immigration perspectives have also included: socioeconomic status (e.g., Ng and Omariba 2010), racial discrimination (e.g., Esses et al. 2007; Hyman 2009), language abilities (e.g., Galiev and Masoodi 2012), religion and belief (e.g., Syed and Pio 2010). Some other categories of difference that are pre-determined, yet salient and worthy of investigation in skilled immigration are disability, sexuality, sexual orientation, age, nationality, and occupational skills. Of note, most studies on skilled immigration focus on a single category of difference that is generally identified as most salient in the literature. The temporal and geographical context of a study are often not considered while identifying the category of difference as being salient. Even when multiple categories are included in the research, it is common to find gender or ethnicity as the dominant category as we noted earlier in this paper. Another common practice is what Hancock (2007) describes as multiple approach whereby researchers analyze multiple categories in an additive and mechanistic way using the etic/intercategorical approach based on static categories and a priori assumptions about the relationships of the categories with each other. Such studies gradually incorporate normative categories in linear regression equations to capture their simultaneous impact (e.g., Duncan and Trejo 2012; cf. Hancock 2007). Understanding the intersections of many aspects of identity is the key to understanding the challenges faced by skilled immigrants. Intersectional study with an emic approach facilitates the investigation of the impact of a full range of identity issues on the settlement and integration experiences of skilled immigrants, since "individuals are differently endowed, even when they have very similar demographic attributes" (Tatli and Ozbilgin 2012,196). Intersectional analysis of the economic, cultural, symbolic, and social capitals (Bourdeau 1986, 1987) of skilled immigrants will help us understand their settlement and integration needs.

Researchers should also embrace the diversity within the single identity marker (category of difference), for instance, instead of using visible minority status as a binary variable they should consider using a full range of ethnic origins. This will assist in providing a detailed expose of barriers and challenges experienced by a skilled immigrant during the integration process rather than a superficial one. Similarly, a detailed picture of educational or linguistic background will explain the unique settlement needs of skilled immigrants with diverse backgrounds (cf. Wilkinson 2003).

Marfelt (2016) suggests the following analytical questions to help guide researchers who wish to adopt an intracategorical approach to intersectional analysis:
(1) Which social categories, if any, are represented in the empirical
material? (2) Which social categories are absent? Are any categories
that seem important to the empirical material missing? If so, why? (3)
Are there any observable explicit or implicit assumptions about social
categories or about relations among social categories? (4) How do
represented and/or absent categories support or oppose each other? (5)
How does the representation of the categories and their intersections
shift over time or in different contexts? (Marfelt 2016, 41).

Marfelt's questions serve to begin the intracategorical approach to intersectional analysis. These can be adapted, modified and further refined to understand the settlement and integration needs of skilled immigrants.


It is a complex task to understand the influence of various categories of difference in shaping the settlement and integration of a skilled immigrant in Canada. Policymakers face the challenge of designing and implementing legislations that may alleviate the issues faced by skilled immigrants in the process of integration, while researchers in the field of immigration face the challenge of the expectation to interrogate multiple categories of difference in their investigations. The pragmatic difficulties in accurately conducting intersectional studies limit this approach to conducting research (cf. Wilkinson 2003).

One of the biggest challenges in using the concept of intersectionality is the lack of a coherent methodology (Marfelt 2016). Most scholars advocate for a qualitative approach focusing on narratives and discourse arguing that intersectionality can be best examined by analyzing individual stories and personal experiences related to everyday life (Christensen and Jensen 2012). Researchers argue that qualitative methods are intended for small populations and very detailed topics close to everyday experiences and are apt for handling multiple identity marker combinations simultaneously; therefore, intersectional analysis should be undertaken with qualitative methods (Wilkinson 2003). However, the limitation of qualitative research is that it lacks generalizability (Creswell and Piano Clark 2011). For instance, a study on South Asian professional immigrants who are single mothers may provide precise details on the specific settlement needs of these women, but the findings cannot be applied to all professional immigrants who are single mothers. There is often a mismatch between policymakers and service providers who need research findings to inform the creation of new programs or policies, however, study findings often cannot be used for these purposes if they lack generalizability (Manuel 2008; Wilkinson 2003).

On the other hand, intersectional analysis using quantitative methods require large, complex, and disaggregated data with a large number of variables representing a wide variety of categories of differences (Garcia Bedolla and Scola 2006) such as survey reports or secondary census data. For instance, an intersectional study on the settlement and integration needs of skilled immigrants will look at multiple variables such as gender, age, visible minority status, ethnicity, employment, income, education, language, sexual orientation, religion, etcetera. However, statistical equation modelling considers the influence of all categories independently on the integration needs. The equation will consider the intersection of categories only when two or more variables are highly correlated. Though there are statistical solutions to overcome this problem, those are not the best measures to study intersections. Besides, a high level of statistical expertise is needed for such analyses (cf. Wilkinson 2003). Furthermore, even if researchers source large datasets, they often do not have sample sizes large enough to fully examine the experiences of the different subgroups. This is particularly the case when the groups are small or when they are minority populations. Therefore, it is suggested that the use of longitudinal data is probably the most appropriate for performing quantitative intersectional analysis (Manuel 2008) although recognizing that contexts, policies, and other factors change over time and will have to be taken into account. However, this limits the reach of intersectional analysis and limits its usefulness in intellectual discovery. Another limitation of using the intersectional approach with quantitative methods is that it does not support the use of the emic approach to analysis. Most quantitative intersectionality analyses are unable to focus on more than three identity markers simultaneously due to pragmatic reasons and analytical considerations. In addition, with quantitative methods, researchers need to identify and determine the categories of difference before initiating data collection (Manuel 2008).

One strategy to overcome the above limitations is to use a mixed-methods model in which data from the qualitative strand of the study could be used to identify the variables for the quantitative strand. Alternatively, qualitative data could be used to elaborate on the quantitative findings. Also, qualitative and quantitative data could be used in parallel to bring together the properties of both methods and to compensate for the shortcomings of each method by the other (cf. Creswell and Piano Clark 2011). Integrating quantitative and qualitative approaches may yield a better contextual understanding of the settlement and integration needs of skilled immigrants. Using a mixed-methods approach for capturing dimensions of the identity of skilled immigrants and for examining how these dimensions intersect in shaping their settlement and integration experiences in Canada may help avoid some of the reductive consequences of either qualitative or quantitative approaches (cf. Harper 2011). A mixed-methods research design would allow researchers to obtain and analyze data in multiple ways to acquire a rich and complex understanding of how the intersection of identities of skilled immigrants are related to their integration outcomes in Canada (cf. Pifer 2011).


In conclusion, this paper explores the ways in which intersectionality could be applied to skilled immigration research. This was our attempt to build on the contemporary intersectional literature and to demonstrate the applicability of intersectional framework in analyzing and understanding the settlement and integration needs of skilled immigrants in Canada. Skilled immigration is concerned with complex social identities. To the present day, skilled immigrants are likely to endure identity-based inequalities. However, immigration literature in Canada seldom takes into account the impact of the full range of identity issues on the settlement and integration experiences of skilled immigrants. There are potential advantages of using intersectionality in this field of research but there are also certain limitations of using the framework in the context. However, we envisage that this monograph will lead the research community to further discuss and develop the intersectional framework for analyzing and explaining the settlement and integration needs of skilled immigrants. This paper offers the intersectional approach as necessary; however, the development and evaluation of such models in reflecting the experiences of skilled immigrants was beyond the scope of this paper and therefore, it is left for future theoreticians and researchers to explore. From our point of view, intersectionality seems to be an attractive proposition for immigration research. It is flexible enough to allow us to systematically unpack not only the disadvantages of skilled immigrants that may hinder the process of their settlement and integration in Canada, but also the privileges that may have resulted from some of their social identities. In conclusion, intersectionality presents an exciting way of critically thinking about immigrant integration and invites stronger debates to address injustices emerging from various categories of differences.


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VIBHA KAUSHIK is a PhD Candidate in the Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary. Her dissertation focuses on the settlement and integration of skilled immigrants. Her research interests include diversity, oppression, and social justice; social work with immigrants and refugees; international migration and Canadian immigration; gender and migration; linguistic challenges of immigrants; and mixed methods research. Her recent publications include "Settlement and Integration Needs of Skilled Immigrants in Canada" (with co-author J. Drolet, 2018) in Social Sciences.

CHRISTINE A. WALSH, Professor and Associate Dean (Research and Partnerships) in the Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary, conducts research contributing to the understanding of violence across the lifespan. In her community-based, arts informed, and action-oriented research she collaborates with populations affected by social exclusion, poverty and homelessness including people with incarceration histories, immigrants, and older adults.
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Author:Kaushik, Vibha; Walsh, Christine A.
Publication:Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal
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Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 22, 2018
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