Immigrant Experiences of Occupational Downgrading: Their Stories in Light of Possible Selves Theory
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This qualitative phenomenological study examined the occupational downgrading experiences of six adult immigrants. Occupational downgrading happens when an individual’s occupation post immigration does not match his or her education credentials and previous professional experiences. The goal was to make sense of the participants’ narratives through the lens of possible selves theory. Therefore, the research questions guiding this study were: (1) What are the journeys of adult immigrants adapting to the demands of the U.S. workplace? (2) How do occupational downgrading experiences of immigrants shape their integration to the U.S. workforce? and (3) How can we make sense of the participants’ narratives through the lens of possible selves theory?
Phenomenological interviews served as the main source for data collection. In addition, artifacts allowed the participants to enrich their stories and assisted them in triggering important memories. Lastly, historical timelines from the participants’ countries of origin provided context for their immigration narratives. Phenomenological analysis was helpful in making sense of the participants’ stories. Themes that emerged from the participants’ occupational downgrading experiences include underemployment, shift in status, language barrier, feeling of discrimination, and lack of inspiration at the new job. Looking at past, present, and future selves, the participants’ narratives were examined first through identity transition processes: (1) separation, (2) transition, and (3) reincorporation and then through identity forming processes: (1) reclaiming past possible selves, (2) rejecting past selves, (3) constructing new possible selves, and (4) expanding current ones. The study adds to a developing body of literature focusing on the possible selves of adult immigrants experiencing occupational downgrading.