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Occasional Paper Gender Policy 6: Gendering Migration, Livelihood and Entitlements: Migrant Women in Canada and the United States

24 Oct 2005

  • Authors: Monica Boyd, Deanna Pikkov


The United States and Canada have long experiences with large-scale migration, and they continue to welcome large flows of legal immigrants. Women make up an increasing proportion of these international flows. Two developments affecting migrant women are concurrent with this trend. First, as demand for entry has risen, governments have attempted to stabilize or reduce the numbers of migrants, and to impose increasingly demanding criteria to determine who gets in. The resulting alterations in migration policy have changed who is legally admitted; they have stimulated the entry of irregular and temporary migrants; and in Canada they enlarged the share of highly skilled migrants during the 1990s.

Second, coinciding with - if not underlying - these migratory changes is a North American neoliberal agenda: labour market deregulation; downsizing and decentralization of the welfare state, and privatization of services. Together, these measures create a situation where social provision no longer seriously seeks to bridge the chasm between formal citizenship rights and substantive access to resources among the poor. According to the authors, to understand migrant women’s disadvantages with respect to livelihoods and entitlements in Canada and the United States, we must consider the erosion of social services and assistance as part of an attempt to reduce government responsibility for poverty among both native - and foreign - born; the growing income inequality that follows from the adoption of labour market deregulation as a principal strategy to fight unemployment; the non-recognition of foreign credentials (especially in Canada); and persisting systems of gender and racial stratification that affect all citizens.

This paper compares migration regimes in Canada and the United States, examines gendered work environments, and studies social entitlements for migrant women in the two countries. The authors conclude that the future of North America’s foreign-born residents, especially women, is uncertain.

On one hand, there is an admirable record of socioeconomic mobility and success of most immigrant groups over time and into the second generation. On the other hand, growing labour market inequality, deteriorating social provision and fraying safety nets may threaten this historic pattern for the majority of today’s newcomers. Of particular concern is the trend toward a growing reliance on temporary categories of entry and residence, as well as increasing inequality in social provision. Such trends have the very real potential of intensifying migrant women’s struggles to find permanent and legal residency, and to keep a secure foothold in the North American postindustrial economies.

Monica Boyd holds the Canada Research Chair in Equity and Health, and is Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto. Deanna Pikkov is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology, University of Toronto, Canada.

Order from UNRISD; 40 pages, 2005, $12 for readers in industrialized countries, $6 for readers in developing and transitional countries and for students.