Immigrants are still struggling to find work in Canada despite the healthcarehealthcare shortage. They are seeking alternative solutions. One of the solutions that are being used is gig platforms where immigrant workers are over-represented.
Consider, for instance, a newly arrived nurse from the Philippines who is waiting to receive her registered nurse’s license. She is not able to practice as a registered nurse without her license. In the interim, she could take a job from a digital platform, such as care.com, to provide care twice a week for a dementia client.
Many immigrant workers use these platforms to find employment while they wait for accreditation. The Canadian healthcarehealthcare sector is chronically understaffed. This suggests that Canada struggles to support the integration and retention of immigrants into the care sector.
Immigrant healthcare workers in Canada
Immigrants dominate the health care system in Canada. Statistics Canada reports that they account for more than 40 percent of Ontario nurse aides.
Canada is in need of more care workers. Many are still unable to obtain quality jobs in the care sector.
Care platforms seem to offer immigrant professionals a chance to work in their respective fields. While digital platform work is an opportunity for new immigrants to Canada, it can only be a temporary respite while they find a permanent job in the healthcare industry.
In February 2022, a healthcarehealthcare worker at a Laval, Que. Long-term-care home puts protective clothing on. Care workers who want to work in the healthcare field full-time should not use gig platforms. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Platform work is done differently.
The Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies will publish our forthcoming research about platform workers. There are actually two types of platform work: relational and not.
Digital care platforms differ from casual, one-off gigs like ride-hailing and food delivery. These latter forms are non-relational because there is no need or possibility for relationships to form between service providers and customers.
Our interviewees found that digital platforms like Uber or SkipTheDishes offered opportunities for them to improve their language skills and expand their network but did not provide deeper relationships. Care or domestic platform work, however, is different.
This is because care work is inherently relational and requires a connection between the care worker and the receiver. Care workers are motivated to build a relationship with clients in order to cultivate a long-lasting relationship.
Care work is inherently relational and requires a connection between the care worker and the receiver. (Shutterstock)
When they found work in relational work, immigrant caregivers felt more fulfilled. The temporary jobs provided an opportunity for their professional identity, which was formally recognized through caring-related duties. The workers’ ability to complete the tasks, even if they were not their expertise, was affirming of their professional identity.
Digital care platforms may allow immigrants to work in their area of expertise, but they also have consequences. Workers on care platforms are incentivized to risk their lives for their employers. This creates a power imbalance, both between the workers and the media, as well as between them and care recipients.
Need for quality care?
Immigrant workers need to find work in their area of expertise. In Ontario, for instance, nurses from other countries are allowed to practice until they receive their full registration. The journey to full credentials is long and costly.
The Government of Canada recently announced its new immigration goal of welcoming 500,000 immigrants per year by 2025. This new immigration goal will help to address the labor shortages in the care sector. The large number of immigrants is likely to include care professionals with high levels of education. The care sector will continue to face a labor shortage if barriers to care work are not addressed.
Gig platforms and other alternative working arrangements might provide a temporary fix. However, many professionals in the care sector are still unable to use their skills and experiences to find permanent employment. Canada must work with new immigrants to better understand regulatory barriers. We must ask: Are immigrant caregivers able to thrive, or will alternative precarious forms of employment, such as gig platform jobs, be the norm?