Foreign Education, Underemployment, and Wellness: Lived Experiences of African Immigrants in the USA

Foreign Education, Underemployment, and Wellness: Lived Experiences of African Immigrants in the USA

Joseph O. Otundo, Jane A. Opiri
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-5811-9.ch011
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Although the number of African immigrants in the United States has steadily increased, there remains a gap in understanding their lived experiences in the context of employment and wellness. Using qualitative method, this study investigated underemployment and wellness among six foreign-educated African immigrants. The purpose of this chapter is to discuss three themes that emerged from this study. Study design utilized was grounded theory. Participants in this study held professional jobs before relocating to the US. Results suggest that despite excitement of migrating to the US, African immigrants experience myriad life events from the time they land until when they settle down. Yet, the adaptation mechanisms reported include social networking and social support. Thus, three themes that emerged from this study are occupational, emotional, and social wellness. From the findings, the authors developed underemployment versus wellness conceptual framework that can be used for future studies.
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Batalova, Fix, and Bachmeier (2016) define underemployment as workplaces that highly skilled persons work in low-skilled jobs requiring moderate or less on-the-job training. Low skilled jobs typically require a high school diploma or less, for example, personal-care aides, housekeepers, and truck drivers. Research findings show that 40% of African immigrants and 36% of the US born white population aged 25-40 have at least a bachelor’s degree (Tesfai, 2017). But with regard to employment, African immigrants are disproportionality underemployed and continue to be part of the population segment that is significantly underemployed (Hailu, Mendoza, Lahman, & Richard, 2012). Whereas US experienced significant decrease in underemployment between 2010 and 2019, there still exists disparity based on race and country of birth (Batalova et al., 2016; Nunn, Parsons, & Shambaugh, 2019). In a recent annual report, America’s Health Rankings (2019) revealed 11.6% and 6.1% underemployment rate among black adults and white adults, consequently. It has also been suggested that African Immigrants experience more occupational segregation than other races (Tesfai, & Thomas, 2020).

Despite the fact that academic credentials are supposed to help secure employment opportunities, this has not always been the case with African immigrants. Highly skilled immigrants often find it hard to transfer their knowledge from home country to the United States (Batalova et al., 2016). A qualitative study with immigrants describes frustration felt by African immigrants when their foreign education and work experience fail to help them secure descent jobs (Baran, Valcea, Porter, & Gallagher, 2018). Evidence shows that of the total number of unemployed people in the USA, foreign born and educated immigrants account for 60% (Batalova et al., 2016). Consequently, immigrants experience perceived broken promises and pleasant surprises.

Studies show that there many factors that account for this unemployment. It is appalling that immigrants are discriminated based on accent, rather than looking at the skills and qualifications required for the advertised positions (Hosoda, 2016). Also, it is unfortunate that language fluency and cultural knowledge indirectly limit immigrants’ acquisition of jobs (Guerrero & Rothstein, 2012). Accordingly, employers tend to connect and hire individuals that exhibit language and cultural competency.

In their study, Lane and Lee (2018) provide four lived experiences of immigrant workers: loss of community; lack of voice; frustration with U.S. educational and regulatory systems; and pride in their vocation. Immigrants are frustrated when educational credentials seem not to help them navigate the US system to secure good jobs. Loss of community also points to frustrations of working in an unfamiliar territory surrounded by strangers. Immigrants lack the social support to lean on. Immigrants feel they are on island with individuals or neighbors who seem not to understand their plight. Lack of voice is felt because accent or language barrier make it hard to express concerns and frustrations (Hosoda, 2016). As much as majority of immigrants from Anglophone countries are fluent in written and spoken English, there is the issue of assent. In addition, immigrants suffer from imperfect transferability and queuing approach (Tesfai, 2019). That is, employers discount immigrants’ educational qualifications and work experience; and rank applicants on racial ‘hierarchy’ rather than academic qualifications.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Emotional Health: Personal conditions that enable a person be in control of individual thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Life Events: Experiences that interrupt an individual’s usual activities and cause considerable alteration and modifications.

Barriers: Conditions that make it difficult for people to get employment.

Social Health: Ability to form meaningful relationships with others and to have positive interactions.

Stress: Physical, mental, and emotional factors that cause physical or mental tension.

Social Support: Having people around you that turn in in times of need and crisis to provide buffer.

Occupational Health: Promotion and maintenance of overall wellbeing of workers and improvement of working environment.

Social Networking: Practice of expanding social contacts by creating connections through individuals and/or social media.

Job Search: The act of searching for job due to unemployment, underemployment or discontented with a current position.

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