Skip to main content

Post-migration stress, lack of employment, detrimental to the long-term mental health of immigrants: study


For the ten immigrants sworn into citizenship this afternoon at ceremony at Citadel Hill Historic Site in Halifax, officially becoming a Canadian is a milestone in a long journey.

“This country is more open to all the different cultures,” says Muhammad Aashir Javed, originally from Pakistan.

But he and his family were nervous about making a new start.

“Just a little bit of fear of uncertainty,” he says, “leaving your existing jobs and then going to a new place and thinking of starting over…you get a bit anxious.”

The hope for a better future brings thousands of people from around the world to Canada every year, and now the federal government is ramping up immigration efforts, with the goal of bringing in 465,000 new permanent residents into the country in 2023.

But a new study from a PhD researcher at Dalhousie University has found the initial hope can turn into anxiety and depression for many newcomers.

“Over time, they experience some stressful situations, (and) post-migration stress, including labour market stress, lack of socioeconomic support, racism, (and) discrimination,” he adds.

Iqbal Chowdhury is with Dalhousie’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and his PhD work explores regional differences in the mental health of immigrants depending on where they settle.

As part of his research, he did a deep dive into data from Canadian Community Health Surveys and found the longer immigrants are in Canada, the more susceptible they are to mental health decline.

His work supports a current theory known as the “Canadian immigration paradox”, an observation that immigrant health tends to decline more quickly than that of the average Canadian, despite often being healthier upon arrival.

Chowdhury believes a possible explanation may lie in the disconnect that can happen when a newcomer tries to find employment, an experience he's witnessed himself among friends.

Immigrant screening for entry as a skilled work in Canada is done through the Comprehensive Ranking System, based on criteria such as age, education, language, and work skills.

“They’re actually highly position job holders in banking and other sectors,” he says, “and when they come to Canada based on these criteria, they have to struggle, and I think that might cause the deterioration of their mental health condition.”

Mobile barber Mohammad Alnabelsi knows what it's like to start from scratch after he came to Nova Scotia from Syria via Jordan in 2019.

“Everything is hard, not easy no, when I come here my language is not very well,” he says.

Alnabelsi says without help from others, his dream of owning and operating his mobile barbershop may not have happened.

Yet his entrepreneurship is considered valuable in a country depending on immigration for economic growth.

“Different language, different culture, different everything, you know,” he says, “(but) here in Canada, you need a lot people for work here too.”

“If these gaps can be minimized, that would be really good,” says Chowdhury.

He says that’s why Ottawa needs to do more to help immigrants gain employment in their chosen fields - not just for the economy, but for immigrant mental wellbeing overall.

Chowdhury will be presenting his research next week in Toronto at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Canada’s largest academic gathering.

He hopes sharing his findings will help create better tools to support immigrants in their new lives in Canada. Top Stories

Stay Connected