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Overqualified − and Stressed Out

Immigrants who are overqualified for their Canadian jobs might not just be bored. Their mental health might be suffering as well

November 1, 2010

Photo by Ameed El-Ghoul, www.SphinxPhotography.com
The immigrant taxi driver with a PhD may be a cliché, but it’s also the unfortunate truth for many newcomers to Canada. Immigrants tend to be better educated than native-born Canadians, but they also often have a hard time getting the jobs that they’re qualified for.

New research suggests that the PhD taxi driver might not just be bored and frustrated — his mental health might be suffering as well.

U of T researchers looked at data tracking a group of immigrants from six months to four years after their arrival. At the end of four years, more than half of the immigrants were working jobs that they were overqualified for. The overqualified were more likely to report mental health problems than other immigrants.

Peter Smith, of epidemiology, and Cameron Mustard, of epidemiology and social and behavioral sciences, published the paper in the journal Ethnicity and Health, along with Cynthia Chen, a researcher at the Institute for Work and Health in Toronto.

The researchers were trying to explain previous observations that, while immigrants tended to have better health than the Canadian-born when they immigrated, over time they lost that advantage. The authors thought it might have something to do with the stress and frustration of not being able to get good work.

The authors analyzed data on 5,215 immigrants collected for Statistics Canada’s Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada. The survey asked questions about health, and also about persistent feelings of sadness, depression and loneliness.

In fact, overqualified immigrants were no more likely to experience worsening physical health than immigrants who were not overqualified for their jobs. But they were about 40 per cent more likely to report prolonged feelings of sadness, loneliness or depression.

The researchers conclude that immigrants need to be offered job opportunities that fit their qualification, both for economic and health reasons.


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