A Qualitative Investigation of the
Professional Adaptation Processes
of Internationally Educated Social
Workers in Canada
Annie Pullen-Sansfaçon, Marion Brown, Stephanie Ethier, Alice Gérard
Tétrault, Amy Fulton, Audrey-Anne Dumais Michaud,
Kate Matheson, John Graham
Knowledge Exchange Forum, November 2014
The Bigger Picture:
• An increasingly important phenomenon worldwide
– social workers are part of this trend
• Recent research examines challenges and benefits of
employing, and/or training needed for migrant social
workers for practice in the new context (see reference list)
• Yet, little is known from the migrant social worker
perspective how they experience professional
– challenges and barriers faced in securing employment
– having foreign credentials recognized
– how knowledge and experience transfer to the new
The Canadian Context
• Population = 35 million people
• Federal government has an annual target of attracting
240,000 to 265,000 new immigrants
• Internationally educated social workers are on the
government’s ‘occupational list’ and the profession is
presented as offering ‘good job prospect’
• Internationally educated social workers must
– have their foreign credentials assessed by a regulatory body
– then apply to their provincial social work regulator for a license
• Development of pan-Canadian credential recognition
standards is currently underway (Fang, 2012)
Adaptation of Migrant Social Workers:
• Critical predictor: transferability of standards
from one country to another (Remennick 2003)
• IASSW and IFSW: Global Standards document
– Does social work have internationally comparable
knowledge, values and standards?
– Is social work a culturally specific and locally driven
Can the practice of Social Work easily transfer
from one country to another?
Our Study: Research Questions
• How do social work experience & education in one country affect
perspectives & experiences of social work practice in Canada?
• What are social workers’ experiences of professional adaptation in
their new social work practice contexts? (adaptations at work,
changes in perceptions of roles/tasks, evolution of professional
identity as social workers, interactions within work contexts with
social work clients, colleagues & organisations, and impact on the
practice of social work)
• What are the challenges and benefits perceived by service users,
employers and policy makers regarding the integration of migrant
Methodology: Grounded Theory
• Grounded theory:
– when little is known or theorized already about a
– no existing theories or theoretical constructs are
imposed on the data
– work with the data inductively, from the ‘ground’ up
– to “build theoretical understanding of complex social
– to develop “middle-range theories…’grounded’ in
participants’ experiences” (Whiteside et al., 2012: 504-505)
Participant Inclusion Criteria
• Settled in one of the three sites of study
between 2002 to present
• Have completed a social work degree outside
• In the process of or completed:
– Having social work credentials recognized
– Being licensed to practice in the province
• Targeted emails and letters distributed
through the provincial social work regulators
in Nova Scotia, Alberta and Quebec
• Interested participants followed up
• Brief screening to ensure each participant
met the inclusion criteria
• Snowball sampling
• Individual, in-depth interviews, recorded &
• Data collected in 3 phases over 4 years
Halifax Montreal Calgary
5 per site
5 5 5
12 per site
7 12 12
8 per site
6 8 5
All the Maritime provinces
Characteristics of Participants
• A heterogeneous group
• From diverse geographic regions representing 21
• Varied experiences of migration
• Many dynamics shape the migration experience:
gender, race, language, cultural background
• Reasons for migration:
– personal motivations (curiosity, desire to leave their
– relational motivations (partner & family moves)
– professional motivation (acquisition of new knowledge)
Country of Origin of the participants
France (12), USA (10), UK (8), India (5), Romania (5), Ukraine (5),Lebanon (4), Germany
(2), Colombie (2), Spain (1), Venezuela (1), Israel (1), Netherland (1), Australia (1),
Czech Republic (1), Finland (1), South Africa (1), Brazil (1), New-Zealand (1), Philipines
(1), Pakistan (1), Liberia (1).
Working across Two Languages
• Participant choice: interviews in either English or
• Interviews were audiotaped and transcribed
• French interviews:
– transcribed in French and coded in English
– English = common language among members of the
• French transcripts used for the purposes of
presenting or disseminating the data are
translated into English on an as-required basis
• Team coding process
– Coding within and across sites
– A detailed, lengthy & intense commitment
– Refinement of codes & categories through
dialogue & debate
• Final coded documents were analysed and
abstracted to develop emerging theory and
other findings presented today
• Data stored and managed in Nvivo software
Bartley, A., Beddoe, L., Fouche, C. & Harington, P. (2012). Transnational social workers: Making the profession a transnational
professional space. International Journal of Population Research, vol. 2012, 1-11.
Beddoe, L. & Fouche, C. (2014). ‘Kiwis on the Move’: New Zealand social worker’s experience of practising abroad. British
Journal of Social Work, 44(supp. 1), i193-i208.
Beecher B., Eggertsen, L., Reeves, B.J., & Furuto, S. (2010). International student views about transferability in social work
education and practice. International Social Work, 53(2), 203–216.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada (2013). Foreign Credentials Referral Office. Retrieved from:
http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/fcro/index.asp Accessed: 19 April 2014.
Fang, C (2012). Foreign Credential Assessment and Social Work in Canada. Retrieved from: http://www.sasw.ca/council/FQR-
Report2012-Final.pdf Accessed: 10 January 2014.
Fouche, C., Beddoe, L., Bartley, A. & Brenton, N. (2013). Strengths and Struggles: Overseas qualified social workers’ experiences
in Aotearoa New Zealand. Australian Social Work, 66(1) 1-16.
Fouche, C., Beddoe, L., Bartley, A. & de Haan, I. (2014). Enduring professional dislocation: Migrant social workers’ perceptions
of their professional roles. British Journal of Social Work, 44, 2004-2022.
Gray M. (2005). Dilemmas of international social work: Paradoxical processes in indigenisation, imperialism and universalism.
International Journal of Social Welfare, 14, 230-23.
Hussein, S., Manthorpe J., & Stevens, M. (2010). People in places; A qualitative exploration of recruitment agencies'
perspectives on the employment of international social workers in the UK. British Journal of Social Work, 40, 1000-1016.
Pullen- Sansfaçon, A., Brown, M. & Graham, J. (2012). International migration of professional social workers: Toward a
theoretical framework for understanding professional adaptation processes. Social -Development Issues, 34(2), 37-50.
Pullen-Sansfaçon, A., Spolander, G. & Engelbrecht, L. (2012). Migration of professional social workers: Reflections on challenges
and strategies for education. Social Work Education, 31(8), 1032-1045.
Remennick, L. (2003). Career continuity among immigrant professionals: Russian engineers in Israel. Journal of Ethnic and
Migration Studies, 29(4), 701-721.
Service Canada, Government of Canada (2013). Social Workers: Unit group 4152. Retrieved from:
http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/qc/job_futures/statistics/4152.shtml Accessed: 26 October, 2014.
Van Ngo, H. & Este, D. (2006). Professional re-entry for foreign-trained immigrants. Journal of International Migration and
Integration, 7(1), 27-50.
Whiteside, M., Mills, J. & McCalman, J. (2012). Using secondary data for grounded theory analysis, Australian Social Work,