Year

2017

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of Education

Abstract

This study addresses the issues of changing identities of highly skilled immigrants from non-English speaking backgrounds, recently arrived in Australia under the “General Skilled Migrant” Program. Taking into account the importance of skilled immigration for the current and future economic development of Australia, the study focusses on aspects of skilled immigration that go beyond its economic constituent, shifting attention to issues of skilled immigrants’ social identities and their sense of self. It is argued that professional participation of skilled immigrants is strongly tied to their social identities and changing self-perceptions.

This study provides an examination and analysis of processes of self-definition and redefinition, which five skilled immigrants experience during the period of transition from their previous countries of residence to a new cultural, professional, and social environment. These processes are examined in relation to factors, which impact the construction and negotiation of skilled immigrants’ identities, and the strategies they employ in order to adjust to new settings. Social and personal linguistic resources, upon which participants draw to negotiate their identities are also explored.

The qualitative approach employed in this study allowed for examination of skilled immigrant participants’ identities that emerged from a series of three interviews and e-mail exchanges with the researcher. The data were examined through the lenses of thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) and social interactional analysis of participants’ narratives (De Fina & Georgakopoulou, 2008b).

The analysis of data revealed that during the period of transition to the new environment skilled immigrants in the study underwent complex and challenging processes of reconsideration and renegotiation of their professional and social identities, with their professional self-identification being most affected. Full professional engagement, which emerged as their major goal, was deferred due to various obstacles, such as the perceived informal disregard of their educational and professional credentials, and insufficient English language skills in professional settings, which required different registers or styles of English language. These factors, amongst others, functioned as limitations to skilled immigrants’ transition to the new environment, but also served as stimuli, prompting adjustments and modifications to their sense of self,

vi The analysis of the presentation and negotiation of skilled immigrants’ identities and examination of linguistic resources and communication strategies they used contributes new knowledge to the literature on the role of discourse in adult migrant identity construction. Negotiation of skilled immigrants’ real and projected participation in different domains of life reveals their priorities, goals, and main concerns during the period of transition to their new settings. A desire to sustain their sense of self as highly educated and skilled professionals, which appears as a shared goal, prompted participants in the study to explore different ways and apply various strategies to be able to position themselves in the new environment in accordance with their self-perceptions.

All participants expressed the need and importance for them to negotiate their professional voice in new cultural and social settings. During the process of negotiation, all participants faced an unanticipated issue of “culture-dependent” professions requiring development or appropriation of a different professional voice; the collapse of assumptions around “culture-neutral” professions; and a subsequent loss of agency. All these unexpected factors ultimately required identity shifts involving greater dimensions of scale and time than were initially considered by participants, initiating a series of mixed and complex experiences.

The pathways and strategies chosen by participants in the study to become functioning members of the new professional society ranged from getting higher degrees from Australian universities, seeking opportunities to establish relationships with the potential employers, improving knowledge of English language, to insisting on partial or complete “equivalence” of existing knowledge and credentials to Australian standards and thus, being resilient to receive any additional qualifications. It appears that these pathways and strategies had not been planned or anticipated prior to immigration, but were employed by participants as the result of their encounter with their new cultural, social, and professional environment.

The examination of skilled immigrants’ reported experiences leads to a better understanding of the processes of their adjustments and adaptation to a new cultural, social, and professional environment, as well as provides insights on how these processes are shaped and regulated by different factors, such as policies, discourses, perceptions and anticipations.

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