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Accepted Manuscript
The career adaptive refugee: Exploring the structural and personal
barriers to Refugee resettlement
Emily D. Campion
PII:
DOI:
Reference:
S0001-8791(17)30132-X
doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2017.10.008
YJVBE 3119
To appear in:
Journal of Vocational Behavior
Received date:
Revised date:
Accepted date:
28 February 2017
23 October 2017
24 October 2017
Please cite this article as: Emily D. Campion , The career adaptive refugee: Exploring the
structural and personal barriers to Refugee resettlement. The address for the corresponding
author was captured as affiliation for all authors. Please check if appropriate. Yjvbe(2017),
doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2017.10.008
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CAREER ADAPTIVE REFUGEE
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Emily D. Campiona
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Resettlement
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The Career Adaptive Refugee: Exploring the Structural and Personal Barriers to Refugee
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, Department of Organization and
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Human Resources, Buffalo, NY
Correspondence author:
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Emily D. Campion
261 Jacobs Management Center
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York
Buffalo, NY, 14260
Contact:
[email protected]
765-427-0309
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Abstract
In this paper I advance a job-search model to explain the structural and personal barriers between
career adaptability and refugee resettlement success. Building from career construction and
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social network theories, I argue that while career adaptability—or the ability of an individual to
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navigate career transitions—generally shares a strong positive relationship with objective
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markers of success (e.g., pay and job quality), this is not necessarily generalizable to refugees
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who likely experience downward occupational mobility. Specifically, I posit that as a method of
adaptation, refugees prioritize the generation of networks for social safety over acquiring jobs
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that align with their skillset. Yet, doing so limits their objective resettlement success,
characterized by lower status jobs than previous employment, low pay, and fewer opportunities
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for host country language ability growth. Career adaptive refugees are even more likely to focus
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on network generation due to discrimination threat and host country language ability upon
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arrival. Further, gender, education, and prior experience hinder a refugee’s ability to obtain a job
commensurate with experience and qualifications prior to migration. However, because being
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embedded in a network creates social resources such as support and social legitimacy, a
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refugee’s newly created network acts as a key mechanism through which career adaptive
refugees experience high physical and mental health, stronger social ties, and higher life
satisfaction. Recommendations for testing these propositions and methodological considerations
are discussed.
Keywords: refugees; career adaptability; social networks; objective resettlement success;
subjective resettlement success
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The Career Adaptive Refugee: Exploring the Structural and Personal Barriers
to Refugee Resettlement
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Recent headlines telling of the influx of refugees across national borders suggest labor
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markets of developed countries are changing, highlighting the topic of refugee resettlement. One
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of the most salient examples is the recent migration of more than five million Syrians into
Europe, Turkey, Lebanon, and other regions that share a Mediterranean coast since the beginning
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of the Syrian Civil War in 2011 (Eurostat 2017a; “UN: Number of Syrian refugees passes five
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million,” 2017). Meanwhile, citizens of developed nations collide over the divisive issue of
immigration as vocal Populist movements emerge in the United States and European Union
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(McBride, 2017; Thrush, 2017). Yet, refugees continue to migrate, making the motivation to
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understand refugee resettlement stronger than ever (Feliciano & Lanuza, 2017).
While work is central to a successful resettlement, only recently has this topic received
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more attention from organizational and vocational researchers. In this paper I demonstrate that
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although literature on the job-search process is informative and expansive (e.g., Wanberg, 2012),
this domain has assumed job seekers are native to the country within which they are applying
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and are familiar with the labor market. Yet, the nuances of the refugee population do not allow
for direct application of these findings. For example, once in the host country, refugees face
obstacles from language and cultural differences to discrimination, in addition to uncertainty,
separation from family, and coping with pre-flight trauma (trauma that occurs before migration,
e.g., civil wars, genocide, and torture, Connor, 2010; Esses, Medianu, & Lawson, 2013).
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Compounding these challenges are impoverished host country networks crucial to personal
support and job acquisition (Yakushko, Backhaus, Watson, Ngaruiya, & Gonzalez, 2008).
In order to understand the phenomenon of resettlement through the lens of organizational
or vocational scholarship, in this conceptual paper I weave together three complementary
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domains—career construction theory, social networks, and job search literature—to advance
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propositions about resettlement success. The thesis of this paper is that a refugee’s arrival in a
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host country will activate career adaptability, which will influence subjective and objective
resettlement success via social network generation and use. Career adaptability is “the readiness
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to cope with the predictable tasks of preparing for and participating in the work role and with the
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unpredictable adjustments prompted by changes in work and working conditions” (Savickas,
1997, p. 254). Structural and personal barriers (e.g., gender role expectations, language fluency)
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will limit objective success, but refugees will adapt by reframing occupational realities and
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focusing on network generation, ultimately yielding higher levels of subjective resettlement
success (see Figure 1).
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Researchers have largely conceptualized resettlement success as an amalgam of the
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following: employment status, host language proficiency, general physical health, financial
status, acculturation, and rate of reemployment (Beiser, 2003; Tollefson, 1986). More abstractly,
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scholars have defined resettlement success as whether or not life is “back to normal,” alluding to
a returned sense of control (Colic-Peisker & Tilbery, 2003, p. 62). However, for the purposes of
fleshing out the resettlement experience, I differentiate between objective measures of
resettlement success (e.g., pay and status) and perceptions of success, or subjective success (e.g.,
mental health and life satisfaction). Objective resettlement success is defined as the status of a
current job relative to previous employment (also called occupational mobility, Chiswick, Lee, &
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Miller, 2005), pay, and opportunities for host country language growth. Research has
consistently demonstrated that host country language ability is critical to career development and
wage increases over time (Chiswick & Miller, 2002; Shields & Price, 2002). As such, the model
accounts for varying levels of host country language proficiency upon arrival and language
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ability growth opportunities representative of potential skill development. In contrast to objective
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resettlement success, subjective resettlement success is defined as mental and physical health,
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strength of social ties, and life satisfaction.
Distinguishing between these types of resettlement success is important for two reasons.
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First, success is an evaluative judgement (Judge, Cable, Boudreau, & Bretz, 1985) where an
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individual may perceive success, but standardized measures such as pay may not similarly reflect
this success. Analogous to research on career success, which distinguishes between objective
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(pay and promotions) and subjective (job and career satisfaction) success (see Ng, Eby,
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Sorensen, & Feldman, 2005), I allow for both observable and unobservable resettlement
outcomes. Second, resettlement success as one construct assumes objective measures can be
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predicted similarly to subjective measures. Career adaptability’s relationship with objective
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success is more sensitive to barriers beyond the individual’s control, such as gender role
expectations or host country language ability upon arrival, than its relationship with subjective
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outcomes. Further, objective markers of resettlement success provide an economic perspective,
while, subjective resettlement success represents the relief of living without threat, or the
satisfaction of the simple act of working (Colic-Peisker & Tilbery, 2003). Finally,
The current paper will contribute to the literature in three ways. First, I expand career
construction theory (Savickas, 2002) by considering important sociological factors at play. A
core tenet of this theory is that humans create their own success. Despite disruptions, a job
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seeker’s education and experience, in addition to effortful job search behaviors and career
adaptability, will yield high-quality employment. However, career construction theorists have
neglected a direct examination of how structural forces (e.g., social networks, gender norms)
promote or limit an individual’s ability to employ agency (Stryker, 2008). While research has
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demonstrated networks largely yield positive employment outcomes (see Granovetter, 1973; Lin,
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1999; Porter, Woo, & Campion, 2015), scholars also recognize that networks can also act as a
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barrier to success (Granovetter, 1973; Mahuteau & Junankar, 2008). As such, I integrate these
ability (career adaptability) and structural barriers.
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theories to illustrate how resettlement success is best understood at the intersection of individual
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Second, I explore the paradoxical role of career adaptability. Career adaptability is a
psychosocial construct used to explain self-regulation during the job search. A career adaptive
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refugee evaluates, plans, makes decisions, and manages environmental factors in order to
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achieve the goal of acquiring a job (Colic-Peisker & Tilbury, 2003). During this process, I posit
refugees seek out social ties to secure a sense of belonging and life satisfaction, but using these
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newly formed strong ties for employment results in lower objective resettlement success.
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Finally, I respond to calls from job search researchers to better understand adaptational
responses to job-search challenges and how social networks may be more helpful in some
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populations than others (Wanberg, Basbug, Van Hooft, & Samtani, 2012; Wanberg, Hough, &
Song, 2002). In doing so, I propose how extreme challenges (e.g., arriving with few or no social
ties, no knowledge of labor market) bring different elements of the job search process to light.
For example, while being adaptable during the job search in an individual’s home country helps
incrementally above and beyond education and work experience, it is likely the case for a
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refugee that career adaptability is one of the most important elements because education and
experience may not translate to the host country’s market.
Defining a Refugee, the Legal Resettlement Process, and Differentiating Refugee Job
Seekers from Native Job Seekers
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A refugee, as defined by the 1951 UNHCR Convention and Protocol Relating to the
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Status of Refugees (2011),
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is owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion,
nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the
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country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail
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himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being
outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable
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or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.
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Currently, there are more than 21.3 million refugees worldwide (UNHCR, 2017). The
U.S. has historically been one of the top receivers accepting 70,000 annually in recent years,
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culminating in more than 3 million refugees since 1975 (U.S. Department of State, 2015). More
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recently, however, the E.U. has experienced a significant increase. For example, whereas
Germany received 108,000 asylum applications between 2008 and 2010, they received more than
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1.6 million between 2011 and 2016 (i.e., the Syrian refugee crisis; Eurostat, 2017b). Refugees
are distinct from asylum-seekers such that their claims regarding threats to safety have not been
substantiated and they cannot work, but likely already live, in the host country. Conversely,
refugees’ claims have been substantiated and they have the legal right to work. Once
substantiated, asylum seekers obtain refugee status.
The Refugee Resettlement Process
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The refugee resettlement processes in the E.U. and U.S. are similar. Government
agencies and non-profit organizations try to place refugees in cities with available jobs and preexisting communities of the same ethnicity. Resettlement agencies provide assistance with
housing, employment services, host country language courses, and healthcare (European
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Resettlement Network, 2017; Refugee Council USA, 2017). Eligibility to apply for citizenship
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varies by country. While some refugees choose to apply for citizenship, others may return to
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their home countries should the threat to their lives be eliminated (e.g., the ending of a war).
Differentiating Refugees from Native-Born Job Seekers
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As mentioned, nearly all of the existing job-search frameworks have limited external
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validity to non-native populations due to important distinctions from native job seekers. Whereas
natives have the advantage of existing social networks, likely a domestic education, and
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exposure to the country’s labor market, refugees must create new social networks and develop a
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novice understanding of the labor market (Torezani, Colic-Peisker, & Fozdar, 2008). Further,
while research shows applicants are most interested in whether their knowledge, skills, abilities,
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and other characteristics (KSAOs) match the demands of the job (Jansen & Kristof-Brown, 2006;
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Wanberg et al., 2002), this alignment may not be as important to refugee job seekers as working
around similar others due to the challenge of adapting to a foreign culture (Berry, Kim, Minde, &
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Mok, 1987). Migrants thus tend to congregate into collectives for support at home (e.g.,
Manhattan’s Chinatown and Berlin’s Turkish neighborhoods) and at work (Colic-Peisker &
Tilbury, 2006; Finnan, 1981) highlighting the importance of communities in migrant populations
perhaps beyond what native job seekers pursue. Finally, before they were refugees, some
enjoyed highly successful careers in their home countries (e.g., doctors, teachers, lawyers).
However, those qualifications may hold little merit in their host country, which can lead to a
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dramatic downturn in employment opportunities, financial stability, and meaningfulness of work,
which is another challenge native-born job seekers do not have to face.
Toward a Framework of Career Adaptive Refugee Resettlement
Career Construction Theory and Career Adaptability
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Job search is defined as “a purposive, volitional pattern of action that begins with the
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identification and commitment to pursuing an employment goal” (Kanfer, Wanberg, &
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Kantrowitz, 2001, p. 838). Employment goals include attaining a job in a particular industry or
occupation that aligns with the seeker’s KSAOs, such as his or her self-concept. According to
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career construction theorists, changes in employment reflect the implementation and
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development of the self-concept—or how an individual views him or herself—because
individuals are not merely passive recipients, but rather active participants in the creation of, and
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response to, employment events (Savickas, 2002; 2013; Super, 1953). Central to this process is
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an individual’s career adaptability (Savickas, 1997).
Career adaptability is a self-regulatory construct that informs individual differences in
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career trajectories. Self-regulation allows individuals to modify their behaviors and attitudes to
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better align themselves with their intended goal (Lord, Diefendorff, Schmidt, & Hall, 2010).
Career adaptability serves this function in response to employment challenges such as
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promotions, changes in organizations, layoffs (Savickas & Porfeli, 2012; Zacher, 2014), or
refugee resettlement. Research has shown that unemployed individuals report higher career
adaptability than employed individuals (Maggiori, Johnston, Krings, Massoudi, & Rossier,
2013), suggesting that challenging occupational circumstances trigger adaptive coping
mechanisms. As such, career adaptive individuals are better equipped to navigate ill-defined
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career problems, modify career expectations, and exert self-control to adjust to vocational
transitions, and meet resettlement goals (Del Corso & Rehfuss, 2011; Savickas & Porfeli, 2012).
Resettlement comprises two goals: finding employment and securing social support
(Colic-Peisker & Tilbury, 2003). Refugees, while potentially more educated than other
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immigrant groups, often struggle the most with fewer social connections and weaker fluency in
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the host country’s language (Bloch, 2004) due to lack of preparedness (e.g., language training) as
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migration is likely unplanned. Fewer social connections leave refugees vulnerable in two ways.
First, the fewer social ties a refugee has, the less social support he or she has to aid in
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resettlement. Second, social networks are a key way refugees seek and attain employment, so
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fewer connections suggest less access to employment information. To reduce this vulnerability,
refugees will prioritize creating social connections.
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People are more inclined to associate with similar others than dissimilar others, which is
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a phenomenon known as homophily (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001). Similarity can
be based on gender, ethnicity, race, nationality, or language. In the case of refugees and other
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immigrants this can result in racial or ethnic isolation and homogenous social networks as they
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turn inward to navigate resettlement. Some scholars have found that immigrants and refugees are
more likely to utilize social networks as a way to learn about employment opportunities rather
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than manage the uncertainty associated with reaching out to individuals they don’t know (Drever
& Hoffmeister, 2008; Elliott, 2001). This effect is likely conditioned on the degree of
assimilation such that immigrants who have more host-country connections, who are more fluent
in the host-country language, and have more education are more likely to use formal methods,
such as employment agencies, rather than informal methods (Seibel & van Tubergen, 2013). The
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challenge of finding employment is worsened by a lack of familiarity with the host country labor
market and poor translation of education and experience across cultural lines.
As such, career adaptability plays an important role in refugee resettlement such that
career adaptability provides a refugee the internal resources necessary to modify expectations,
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and implement adaptive coping strategies to manage resettlement. More specifically, a career
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adaptive refugee will recognize the potential employment opportunities available by creating and
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utilizing a social network, thus prioritizing social connections. Further, a career adaptive refugee
misalignment between KSAOs and job demands.
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has the self-regulatory capacity to reduce discrepancies in his or her self-concept due to
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In sum, there are four reasons why a career adaptive refugee will invest more resources in
creating social ties than finding commensurate work. First, a refugee likely has an impoverished
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host-country network. Second, lack of host country language ability makes it difficult to connect
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with dissimilar others. Third, he or she may not know who to trust, so reaching out to similar
others reduces risk. Fourth, a career adaptive refugee would identify the potential to seeking
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employment through these networks and working alongside social ties rather than face the
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uncertainty of seeking a job that aligns with his or her skillset likely alongside dissimilar others.
Therefore, I posit (see Figure 1):
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Proposition 1. Career adaptability is positively related to the generation of a social
network and the use of a social network in the refugee job search process.
Structural and Personal Barriers to Refugee Resettlement Success
While scholars recognize that layoffs and other negative employment circumstances
impede career goals, the underlying notion of career construction theory is that qualifications, the
alignment between a job seeker’s self-concept and work, and his or her career adaptability will
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yield objective success (Johnston, 2016). Yet, neglecting non-work barriers reduces the
generalizability of the theory. Research shows that job seekers with constraints, such as not
having a vehicle and needing affordable childcare, are more likely to experience downward
occupational mobility and report intent to turnover (Wanberg et al., 2002). Yet one’s own
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network can similarly impede such that refugees who seek job information from their networks
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are limited to opportunities within that network. This concentration of workers of similar
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ethnicities in certain industries or companies is called “ethnic niche employment” and is
generally characterized by low status and low pay (Colic-Peisker & Tilbury. 2006).
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Ethnic niche employment occurs for three reasons: need for a job, need for belonging,
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and expectations from an individual’s network (Stryker, 2008). Welfare for refugees is limited
(aid often ends 6 months after arrival in the U.S.; ORR, 2016), introducing a time pressure to
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find a job. It is reasonable to believe that an economic need for work motivates job seekers to
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accept the first employment opportunity presented. However, results are mixed as to whether
economic hardship predicts quicker employment (e.g., Arulampalam & Stewart, 1995; Kanfer et
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al., 2001; cf, Wanberg et al., 2002). Population differences may explain this discrepancy. For
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example, non-profit organizations that help with resettlement may unintentionally deter refugees
from finding meaningful employment in order to find any employment (Nawyn, 2010a). This
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pressure encourages reliance on social ties for quick employment.
Second, as previously discussed, a need for belonging applies additional pressure during
resettlement. For example, research on this need (Baumeister & Leary, 1995) would suggest that
refugees new to their host country will emphasize the creation of social support among ethnically
similar others to secure safety in an uncertain environment (Correa-Velez, Gifford, & Barnett,
2010). Further, research shows that while individuals with social networks capable of informing
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the job search process obtain quicker re-employment, it does not necessarily result in highquality employment (Mahuteau & Junankar, 2008; Sprengers, Tazelaar, & Flap, 1988). Thus,
while a refugee’s social network will assist him or her in fulfilling a need for belonging, it
importantly acts as a barrier to re-employment quality and higher paying jobs.
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Finally, social expectations play a significant role in refugee employment outcomes.
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Strong norms espoused by members of a network influence a refugee’s occupational decisions.
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For example, in a study from the Netherlands where scholars evaluated differences in the job
search process between native and minority candidates, the subjective norms of the group more
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strongly predicted job-search intentions than individual job search attitudes for the ethnic
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minority group. On the other hand, job search attitude was a stronger predictor than subjective
norms of the group for natives (van Hooft, Born, Taris, & van der Flier, 2004). These findings
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demonstrate that behavioral expectations may be stronger in more socially vulnerable groups as a
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means to secure protection of that group. This is further evidenced in a qualitative study detailing
the occupational assimilation of Vietnamese immigrants into the electronics industry in Santa
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Clara County, California. Finnan (1981) wrote:
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Once refugees arrive in Santa Clara County, their decision to become technicians or
assemblers is reinforced. Almost every Vietnamese they meet is employed in some
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capacity in the electronics industry or is training for jobs in the industry . . . Most
refugees merely laugh when asked if they have friends in the industry. They explain that
all of their friends have jobs in the industry. These friends help them choose training
programs and often help them find jobs. (p. 294)
In summation, lower objective resettlement success occurs for three reasons: need for a
job, need for belonging, and expectations from an individual’s network. For a career adaptive
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refugee, prioritizing working with similar others over experience-commensurate work constrains
the refugee to the level of employment of the network, often yielding employment of lower
status than previous work, low pay, and fewer opportunities for host country language growth
(see Figure 1). Thus, I propose:
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career adaptability and objective resettlement success.
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Proposition 2. Social network generation and use will mediate the relationship between
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The utilization of social networks to obtain work, however, presents an interesting
paradox for refugees. That is, while the work may be of lower status, perceptions of success may
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be high. Prior research demonstrates that who individuals work with matters. For example, in
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their analysis of Mexican maquiladoras, Maertz, Stevens, and Campion (2003) found that social
attachments within an organization were critical to continued employment, demonstrating the
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importance of acquiring social support within work communities. Thus, a refugee who seeks a
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job through his or her social network is more likely to obtain work with similar others and
experience the positive psychosocial benefits networks have to offer. Moreover, social
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comparison theory posits that humans compare themselves to those most proximal to them
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(Festinger, 1954). Therefore, a refugee living and working around similar individuals will
perceive resettlement success such that he or she is self-sufficient, a legitimate contributor of
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society, and part of a community, yielding a return to a relative state of normalcy. Thus:
Proposition 3. Social network generation and use will mediate the relationship between
career adaptability and subjective resettlement success.
Discrimination Threat. A crucial barrier to refugee employment is discrimination threat.
As a highly politicized phenomenon, immigrants and refugees face marginalization for being
seen as competitors to native job seekers (Binggeli, Dietz, & Krings, 2013) and for their accents
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(Hosoda, Nguyen, & Stone-Romero, 2012; Livingston, Schilpzand, & Erez, 2017). For example,
in a study comparing the job search of several ethnic groups in Australia, Booth, Leigh, and
Varganova (2012) found that more established groups, such as Italians, had higher call-back
rates than less established groups, such as the Chinese and Middle Easterners. This type of
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discrimination restricts ethnic minorities from obtaining experience- or education-commensurate
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work and, instead, settling for jobs below their skill level.
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Few scholars have studied the relationship between career adaptability and
discrimination, yet the limited research suggests marginalized individuals who have experienced
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more economic constraint will be less equipped to engage in career adaptability, leading to worse
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vocational outcomes (Diemer & Rasheed Ali, 2009; Duffy, Blustein, Diemer, & Autin, 2016).
However, this stream of research generally highlights discrimination of disadvantaged
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populations from the host country who have experienced a lifetime of disenfranchisement. This
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is an important distinction because while, in general, growing up marginalized may lower the
mean level of career adaptability in native minorities (Duffy et al., 2016), refugees likely do not
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arrive with a history of discrimination by individuals in their host country. Further, while native
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minorities generally experience less trust in institutions (Aronson, 2008), refugees will not
experience the same distrust because host country institutions (i.e., the federal government) have
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recently worked in their favor. Therefore, they will not suffer the same reduction in career
adaptability as native minorities. However, this does not mean they will not fear discrimination.
Discrimination remains a pervasive social obstacle for any minority group in the E.U. and U.S.,
motivating refugees to remain close to their newly formed social group.
Engaging in career adaptability will help a refugee in two ways. First, career adaptive
individuals reframe obstacles in order to maintain effort toward their goals (Tolentino, Garcia,
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Restubog, Bordia, & Tang, 2013). Second, they generate social support as a way to guard against
adversity (Finch & Vega, 2003). Thus, rather than seeking a job that aligns with their skills, and
risk vulnerability to discrimination in the job search process, career adaptive refugees will seek
protection by generating strong ties and accepting jobs around similar others resulting in lower
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objective, but higher subjective, resettlement success, as can be seen in Figure 1.
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Proposition 4. A refugee’s perception of discrimination threat will moderate the
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relationship between career adaptability and social network use such that a career
adaptive refugee who perceives discrimination threat will generate and use strong ties
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for employment information and obtain jobs with similar others, resulting in lower
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objective resettlement success and higher subjective resettlement success.
Demographic Barriers. In addition to the barriers posed by threats of discrimination, an
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individual’s demographic characteristics simultaneously constrain and guide certain behaviors
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(see Figure 1). For example, many immigrants face pressure to enter certain jobs due to their
gender (Mahler & Pessar, 2006), such as Latina women seeking housekeeping positions in the
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U.S. (Lutz, 2017). Further, host country language fluency imposes limitations. As such,
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demographic characteristics importantly influence refugee resettlement.
Language proficiency. Perhaps one of the most salient barriers to employment for
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refugees is proficiency in their host country’s language. While language ability is not always
required for employment, research suggests it is crucial in alleviating refugees from lower-level
labor where there are no opportunities for promotions and they are not able to apply their human
capital (Hebbani & Colic-Peisker, 2012; cf., Correa-Velez, Barnett, & Gifford, 2013). For
example, in a recent study of immigrants who migrated to Canada, Warman, Sweetman, and
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Goldmann (2015) found that only immigrants with strong English ability acquired positions with
earnings commensurate with their home country schooling.
According to career construction theory, refugees proficient in their host country’s
language will be motivated to seek employment where they can utilize this skill. As has been
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proposed, one important way refugees attain work is through their networks. However, a career
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adaptive refugee who is proficient in the host country’s language will be more likely to reach out
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to weak ties—or those considered “acquaintances” that harbor non-redundant information related
to employment (Granovetter, 1973)—because he or she will have the ability to create those
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connections (Rudolph et al., 2017; Ryan, Sales, Tilki, & Siara, 2008). Doing so will have
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significant consequences on the job type and status relative to previous employment, pay, and the
opportunity to use and develop host country language ability. Thus, I posit (see Figure 1):
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Proposition 5. A refugee’s host country language ability upon arrival will moderate the
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relationship between career adaptability and social network use such that a career
adaptive refugee who is more proficient in the host country language will be more likely
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to generate and use weak ties for job information, resulting in higher objective
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resettlement success than a refugee who is less proficient in the host country language.
Gender. Research on traditional gender roles demonstrates that the gendering of jobs may
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be more severe in the refugee subpopulation. According to social role theory, individuals seek
and attain occupations with characteristics that align with the expected behaviors of their gender
(Eagly, 1997). Rooted in research on the division of labor, social role theorists explain that there
are generally agreed upon attributes of women and men that incite work-related norms. Thus,
there is pressure for individuals to conform to the types of activities congruent with these norms
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(Eagly & Karau, 2002). The pervasiveness of these gendered expectations are global and are
more salient in traditional cultures (Eagly, Wood, & Diekman, 2000).
One assumption of career construction theory is that an individual’s work is a strong
indication of one’s self-concept (Savickas, 2005). As such, personal preference of how a job
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reflects the individual importantly drives career decisions. However, just as a refugee constrained
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by job-related information and opportunities within his or her network is able to accept
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employment outcomes incongruent with his or her self-concept, so too does a refugee sacrifice
reflection of his or her self-concept at work by accepting a job that likely aligns more with
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attributions about their gender than ability. A refugee will adapt by acquiescing to external
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pressure rather than seeking work commensurate with their ability (Nawyn, 2010a).
Research shows that employment for refugee women is strongly driven by their social
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networks and the expectations within those networks (Nawyn, 2010b). For example, in a study of
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ex-Yugoslavs, Africans, and Middle Easterners, Colic-Peisker and Tilbury (2003) found that exYugoslav women overwhelmingly occupied industrial and domestic cleaning roles as this type of
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labor was “regarded as an inappropriate job for a man” (p. 214). Research additionally suggests
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that women refugees are able to find work more quickly given that jobs closely aligned with
female social roles, such as housekeeping, are abundant and require little skill (Freedman, 2015).
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Men, on the other hand, are more likely to find work in manual labor such as factory work,
construction, and farming (Correa-Velez et al., 2013). Thus, seeking quick employment can
result in attaining gendered jobs.
Social programs exacerbate this phenomenon. For example, in a qualitative study Nawyn
(2010a) found that an institute in Los Angeles offered expedited childcare training, which
provided refugees certification to work in child care and an accelerated avenue to a job while
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simultaneously guiding women job seekers into a traditionally female occupation. Nawyn found
a similar program for manicurists. While these types of jobs may not align with the refugee’s
self-concept, a need for self-sufficiency and belonging supersedes a desire to work in
occupations that necessarily align with his or her KSAOs, leading instead to employment in jobs
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that align with his or her social role. Thus, I propose (see Figure 1):
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Proposition 6. A refugee’s gender will moderate the relationship between social network
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use and objective resettlement success such that women who rely on their network will be
more likely to accept jobs in cleaning, child care, and elderly care, while men who rely
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on their network will accept more physically demand labor.
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Education and experience. A classic anecdote told of refugee migration is one where the
refugee has earned prestige in their home country, but occupies low-skilled labor in their host
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country (e.g., a doctor turned taxicab driver). Those refugees who are educated or worked in
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high-level positions at home and seek to do the same in their host country may be required to
earn recertification or licensure because their home country certifications are likely not
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recognized. Supplementary schooling may be an impractical expense for refugees since they
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must find a way to support themselves and their family members (Bloch, 2004). Refugees with
specific qualifications, such as lawyers, have found recertification or the transference of skills
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into their host country’s system to be a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, requiring them to
adapt to lower-level jobs (Yakushko et al., 2008; Zikic, Bonache, & Cerdin, 2010; Zikic &
Richardson, 2016).
Researchers of this phenomenon call it “deskilling,” which explains why doctors who
take jobs in the service industry tend to lose their abilities over time making eventual
recertification unrealistic (Stewart, 2003). An analysis of New Immigrant Survey Pilot data
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21
showed that refugee status was a stronger predictor of downward mobility in employment
between their last job abroad and their job one year after arrival in the U.S. than factors such as
English language ability and network characteristics (Akresh, 2006). Further, a recent study on
male refugee employment in Australia showed that recognition of refugees’ skills acquired in
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their home country did not guarantee a job, but potentially worked against them due to the
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difficulty of translating higher-level skills to lower-level labor (Correa-Velez et al., 2013).
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Despite this, education may still benefit a career adaptive refugee. It is through schooling
that individuals learn an association between their behaviors and outcomes, which can yield
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higher levels of self-efficacy and perceptions of self-control (Lachman & Weaver, 1998). When
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refugees with more experience and education are placed within a new labor market, they find
themselves with little control over their outcomes and with experience or certification that fails
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to translate. This inability to implement their self-concept can be discouraging (Colic-Peisker,
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2005), yet educated and experienced refugees who modify their expectations by engaging with
their social network to find employment will be more likely to accept the reality lower objective
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resettlement success, as can be seen in Figure 1. Thus, I propose:
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Proposition 7. A refugee’s education and experience will moderate the relationship
between social network use and objective resettlement success such that a more educated
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and experienced refugee who relies on his or her social network for job information will
experience greater downward occupational mobility than a less educated and
experienced refugee who relies on his or her social network.
Discussion
While career construction theory has strongly supported the relationship between career
adaptability and objective markers of success—such as increased employability, promotability,
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22
and wages (e.g., Johnston, 2016)—there are important barriers to these outcomes specific to nonnative job seekers, or refugees. Further, while decades of research have illuminated the jobsearch process, existing frameworks fail to generalize to this subpopulation due to underlying
assumptions regarding a job seeker’s familiarity with the labor market. The model proposed
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herein specifically focuses on the constraints these individuals face in finding employment and,
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ultimately, resettlement success. I argue that the generation of new social networks is a means
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for adaptation to post-migration life such that career adaptive refugees recognize networks as
opportunities for social safety and access to employment information. However, dependence on
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one’s network results in low objective resettlement success, or downward occupational mobility,
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low pay, and fewer opportunities for host country language ability development. Paradoxically,
reliance on one’s network simultaneously enhances subjective resettlement success such that
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working with similar others yields perceptions of belonging resulting in greater physical and
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mental health, stronger social ties, and greater life satisfaction. As such, the framework
contributes to literature on career construction and the job search in three ways.
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First, I extend career construction theory by challenging its underlying notion that
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qualifications, an effortful job search, and career adaptability will lead to high-quality
employment that aligns with a job seeker’s self-concept (Savickas, 2005). I propose structural
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and personal factors play important roles in resettlement outcomes. Specifically, I argue that in
the case of refugees, networks, discrimination threat, language ability, gender, and education and
experience act as significant barriers to high-quality employment. I illustrate that while
individuals are the creators of their own careers, structural factors persist in guiding and limiting
certain career-related decisions, which have consequences for refugee resettlement success.
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23
Second, I examine career adaptability as a vital characteristic for refugee resettlement
success. I demonstrate how the challenge of migration activates career adaptability, yet
ultimately results in lower objective resettlement success. While scholars have generally found
that career adaptive job seekers attain higher-quality jobs (Johnston, 2016; Rudolph et al., 2017),
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I propose refugees are constrained from obtaining these outcomes and focus more on that which
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is within their control: building social support and finding any job even if it is not commensurate
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with their experience or qualifications. By prioritizing social network construction, refugees will
refine their employment expectations by way of group norms (e.g., “All of my friends work at a
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technology factory, so I should work at a technology factory”), but achieve greater mental and
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physical health, stronger social ties, and increased life satisfaction. Therefore, I highlight the
utility of career adaptability for those in vulnerable populations.
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Finally, I respond to calls from job search theorists for a stronger explication of social
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networks and adaptational responses to unemployment (Wanberg, 2012; Wanberg et al., 2012).
This allows for consideration of nuances of the refugee population, such as gender and host
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country language ability, and isolation of important factors in the job search process to more
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clearly understand their role. By integrating social network theory and identifying factors that are
often taken for granted in the job search literature (e.g., language ability, desire to work around
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similar others), I strengthen the explanatory power of the job search domain.
Future Research: Testing the Current Framework and Methodological Considerations
In order to expand the refugee job search framework, the current model should first be
tested. The propositions developed in this paper are built on an integration of theories that
illustrate factors important to refugee resettlement success. There are three approaches to testing
the current framework. First, current theories explaining the job search process were created
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under the assumption of Western ideologies and may not include all of the factors that are
important to refugees. Examining this subpopulation requires an inductive methodology in order
to reveal how individual and cultural characteristics impact the acceptance of jobs that do not
align with one’s ability (Edmonson & McManus, 2007). This methodology may interestingly
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expose how migration acts as a trigger for career adaptability conceptualized in a more trait-like
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manner. Using trait activation theory in conjunction with career construction theory, researchers
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could explore the career adaptability activation process. I further recommend conducting
interviews to investigate the rationalizations or ideologies career adaptive refugees espouse to
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adjust to cultural discrepancies to illustrate how refugees accept varying levels of subjective and
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objective resettlement success.
A second way to test the propositions in this framework is by analyzing resettlement
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through network theory. Social network analysis would allow for a direct test of whether
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refugees benefit most from strong ties, and it would afford an opportunity to examine the
creation of a brand new social network. Moreover, resettlement is a naturally temporal
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phenomenon, thus a longitudinal network approach would allow researchers to tease apart time-
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related aspects and examine change in network characteristics since arrival. By conducting a
network analysis, supplemented with traditional measures of attitudinal outcomes, researchers
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could measure how the strength of these new relationships develop, how the content of the
relationships change, and how these ultimately influence a refugee’s occupational choice.
A final approach to testing these propositions is using experience sampling method or
diary studies. Similar to network analysis, this method would allow for researchers to capture
changes over time and such an intra-individual approach would provide a more detailed
examination of employment’s role in resettlement success. Further, this method could reveal the
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tradeoffs and logic underlying compromises as refugees choose certain jobs over others or
choose lower-level jobs rather than spending more time searching for work commensurate with
their skill. This method may additionally lend itself to a better understanding of career
adaptability as a self-regulatory mechanism.
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The current framework operates under the assumption that the needs for belonging and
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employment exist for a refugee of any background. This is not to say, however, that there is strict
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homogeneity across refugee groups. There are important differences that impact the strength of
the relationships proposed in the current framework. Attached to each refugee’s culture are
US
distinct social expectations that may align or collide with those of the host country. It will be
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important that in any testing of the proposed framework that researchers gather information
related to the refugees’ home culture, in addition to the regionally specific cultural norms of their
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resettlement location.
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It may also be useful for future research to explore the propositions in this framework
using publically available datasets. While datasets from organizations such as EuroBarometer,
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Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICSPR), and Pew Research Center
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do not directly measure constructs such as career adaptability, they may have information
regarding social network use. Further, while potentially not capable of directly testing the current
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framework, these datasets likely provide preliminary insight into the refugee resettlement process
and the attitudes about refugees held by natives in the host countries.
In order to test the propositions in the current framework, there are three important
methodological considerations scholars should note. First, refugees can be difficult to access.
Perhaps one of the most effective ways to identify a sample is to partner with a non-profit
organization specifically aimed at assisting refugees with resettlement, such as those that provide
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language classes, employment services, and housing assistance. It is likely that refugees will
have concerns about sharing personal information, but having endorsement from a non-profit
organization should quell participant apprehension and strengthen the response rate.
For example, in a partnership with an organization that teaches host country language
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classes, a researcher could assign a diary study where refugees are asked to reflect on their week.
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Not only does this provide an opportunity for refugees to practice their host country’s language,
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but this would additionally allow researchers access to information on the job search and the
ability to examine how host country language skill growth over time relates to resettlement
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experiences. Findings could enhance the non-profit’s resettlement system to more effectively
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meet refugee needs and help build the skills necessary for a refugee to succeed. Another
sampling technique supported by scholarship is snowball sampling. Snowball sampling can be
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particularly useful when studying difficult-to-reach populations (e.g., stigmatized or narrowly
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defined groups; Faugier & Sargeant, 1997; Sadler, Lee, Lim, & Fullerton, 2011), and has been
used to study refugees in the past (e.g., Steel et al., 2005).
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A second methodological consideration is trauma. Questions regarding why refugees left
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home may recall traumatic experiences. Of course, the goal of research is not to re-traumatize
participants, yet the nature of some topics requires participants to recall information about
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potentially sensitive events (e.g., torture, abuse). While this is not a highly researched area, some
scholars suggest that participating in research about trauma can be cathartic (Griffin, Resick,
Waldrop, & Mechanic, 2003). Conversely, other researchers suggest Western approaches to
problems may not be understood by individuals of different cultural backgrounds (Colic-Peisker
& Tilbury, 2003). In order to reduce the likelihood of re-traumatizing or offending participants,
researchers interested in studying refugee resettlement should consult research on trauma for
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effective methods (see Brounéus, 2011, for an overview of in-depth interviewing and trauma)
and speak with non-profit workers who regularly interact with refugees.
The final methodological barrier is perhaps the most salient one. Participants may not be
fluent in the host country’s (or the researcher’s) language. For qualitative studies, it is paramount
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to use translators from the same region as the participants to match dialectical nuances. Further,
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real-time translations, rather than having a translator conduct the interview and provide a
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translated transcript, allows for the researcher to guide the interview and request clarifications as
necessary (Esposito, 2001). For quantitative studies, I recommend following Brislin’s (1970)
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ascertain a reliable interpretation of responses.
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approach to have items systematically forward and back translated by independent raters to
Practical Implications of a Career Adaptive Refugee Resettlement Framework
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The proposed model identifies environmental elements that operate in the refugee job-
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search process, which highlights actionable implications for the federal government, non-profits
missioned to help this population, and organizations who hire or may hire refugees. First, a more
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in-depth understanding of refugee resettlement could help inform federal government actions. By
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viewing the refugee population as less of a threat to current labor systems, but one that offers a
net gain of human capital, the encouragement of the federal government for communities and
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organizations to help with refugee re-employment could positively contribute to subjective and
objective resettlement success.
Second, understanding that refugees are not a homogeneous group, but a collection of
individuals with varying degrees of skills, experience, and career adaptability affords counselors
and social workers the opportunity to conduct more individualized counseling (Zacher, 2014). In
so doing, these practitioners can tailor their assistance to help grow a refugee’s career
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adaptability and help them manage employment expectations. For example, I recommend
vocational counselors have clients create a “Life CV.” According to Schultheiss, Watts, Sterland,
and O’Neill (2011), this intervention allows for individuals to reflect on life experiences to
bolster the concept of a “traditional CV,” which generally only accounts for work-related
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experiences. This approach encourages participants to act as their own storytellers to recognize
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and create meaning from important life events. The “Life CV” also provides an opportunity for
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counselors to understand the refugee’s human capital and can strengthen their ability as a broker
between a refugee and potential employers by leveraging how a refugee’s experiences prior to
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migration are compatible with the needs of the organization. Vocational counselors can consider
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these factors when helping refugees to seek employment that utilizes their skills and encourage
them not to satisfice, or settle for a job where they will be underemployed.
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Finally, the current framework could help employers more accurately conceptualize the
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arduous resettlement process and better match refugee employees to jobs that utilize their skills.
Managers should also recognize the refugee’s unique cross-cultural perspective for the benefit of
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the firm as prior experiences may provide opportunities for creativity and enhancement of
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current systems. One method by which organizations can improve the work lives of their refugee
employees is by implementing a peer-mentoring system whereby workers are paired with others
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similar to them in experience and status, and perhaps language and background, to promote
social support at work and opportunities to gain additional skills. This has been shown to be an
effective intervention yielding greater mental health (Busch, Koch, Clasen, Winkler, &
Vowinkel, 2017). Additionally, managers should recognize that employing refugees provides
access to the refugees’ networks. In doing so, human resources departments and non-profit
organizations that serve refugees can work together to implement organizational systems best
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suited for refugee employment. It would further benefit organizations to invite psychologists
who specialize in trauma to speak with managers on how to supervise refugee employees in a
culturally appropriate way.
Ultimately, organizations should note that while refugees will likely accept jobs around
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others similar to them, their skill set may not match the job, allowing organizations the chance to
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offer opportunities once the refugee is in the organization. This is important because while
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research generally illustrates that intergenerational mobility is common (Feliciano & Lanuza,
2017), establishing oneself shortly after migration is crucial given the time constraint on
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government assistance and potential need to support family back home. It is critical for
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ED
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and the productivity of future generations.
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organizations to understand the influence they can have on a refugee’s adaptation, self-reliance,
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Figure 1. Model of the Role of Career Adaptability to Refugee Resettlement Success.
This model illustrates the relationship between career adaptability and objective and
subjective resettlement success, and how structural and personal factors act as barriers to
objective success.
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Highlights
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Refugees face structural barriers to employment in their host country.
Refugees are more likely to seek positions around similar others.
Refugees are more likely to work in lower status and lower paying jobs.
Career adaptability helps refugees self-regulate employment expectations.
Career adaptability indirectly predicts perceptions of refugee resettlement.
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