UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Is the glass half empty or half full? : Obstacles and opportunities that highly educated immigrants encounter in the segmented Canadian labour market Adamuti-Trache, Maria


This dissertation challenges the worth of a university degree in the segmented Canadian labour market by revealing systemic patterns of differential return to education due to social structural factors (e.g., gender, age, visible minority, immigrant status) and available capital (e.g., human, cultural, social, symbolic capital). The portrayal of obstacles raised in the Canadian labour market and opportunities for further education offered by the post-secondary system defines two dimensions of the social space in which knowledge workers unfold their life course trajectories. This is also the social space in which highly educated immigrants who arrived in Canada in the early 2000s compete for social positions. The dissertation is based on four empirical studies, which employ large-scale survey data to analyze employment and further education participation by university educated adults in relation to individual, situational and dispositional factors. The analysis of findings engages Bourdieu’s sociological framework to examine the process through which human capital available to university graduates is transformed over life course, and the critical problem of the devaluation of foreign human capital in the Canadian labour market. The analysis considers the role of non-human capitals to explain issues with immigrants’ employment and participation in post-secondary education in Canada. The main argument is grounded in life course research and recognizes that the transformation of human capital occurs through the strategic actions of a socially situated bounded agency which is capable to adjust to changes in the social context. I put forward the idea that the notion of habitus as a generative structure of practical action is essential to understanding the manifestation of bounded agency during life course transitions. I argue that one’s habitus, viewed as implicit knowledge built over life course, could be the most unique resource available to recent highly educated immigrants to help them overcome the many obstacles raised by the Canadian social structures in their journey to integration. Meanwhile, the Canadian society must improve the view on highly educated immigrants and recognize their value as global knowledge workers and messengers of other cultures: they are a viable resource, creating ‘opportunities’ for learning in workplaces, educational institutions and communities.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International