The JGM BitBlog: Are you a career rebel or a career conformist? Challenges and strategies of skilled migrants in local organizations

Journal of Global Mobility

Ksenia Usanova, University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg. 
Vlad Vaiman, California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, California, USA.
Jelena Zikic, York University, Toronto, Canada. 

Research shows that highly skilled migrants face various career challenges when they arrive in a new country. They often experience difficulties in integrating into a job market, leading to be either unemployed or underemployed. To address these issue, skilled migrants follow different career strategies that help them to integrate and find suitable positions. In contrast, the experiences of highly skilled migrants who successfully secured jobs that are commensurate with their level of expertise have received less attention from scholars and practitioners alike. 
This study focuses on highly skilled migrants – often-overlooked group of international talent. Indeed, they often have above-average compensation, enjoy special immigration status (like the Blue Card), and hold esteemed job titles. However, their subjective perceptions of their own careers remain unknown. Therefore, the main goal of this study is to shed some light on these subjective perceptions and answer the following question: how do highly skilled migrants perceive their careers when employed by local organizations in the host country?
To address the question, this study investigates career challenges of non-European Union citizens who managed to obtain jobs at the positions that are viewed as “key” for the national economy in Luxembourg, such as IT architect, senior managers, and other similar roles. Luxembourg is a particularly relevant context since it experiences a significant lack of skilled labor and extensively attracts talent from both neighboring countries and those that are not part of the European Union. Researchers conducted interviews with highly skilled migrants whose careers could be deemed as objectively successful and discovered that their career success might be overstated. 
In particular, the study found that skilled migrants encounter several career challenges. First, they often struggle to fit in. This challenge is related to their need to adapt to new corporate norms and communication styles of the local organizations in a new country. Second, despite the alignment with their desired titles and compensation levels, these migrants face significant career mismatch that they need to navigate. This is related to the unmet expectations regarding job tasks, occupational status, and available career opportunities, to name a few.  
As a result, this study has identified several strategies that highly skilled migrants use to overcome these important career challenges. Depending on the strategy utilized, these talents could be classified into three groups: career conformists, career rebels, and workhorses. 
Career conformists are individuals whose strategy is to accept the reality as it is, be it positive or negative from their personal perspective. They adapt to the situation without actively seeking change. On the other hand, career rebels adopt a more proactive strategy. They refuse to accept the reality and invest significant efforts into strategizing and negotiating their careers. These individuals prefer direct engagement with their managers and employers to assert their demands. Finally, workhorses try to prove their worth by working extra hours, being always available and continuously enhancing their skills and knowledge to achieve their career goals. 
This study reveals that even though highly skilled migrants may be considered objectively successful, their subjective career success is questionable. The authors, therefore, offer specific recommendations for local organizations to effectively support their valuable international talent. Organizations do make significant efforts spending time and money to attract highly skilled talent but retaining them seems to be a more difficult task. Thus, these recommendations aim to not only to help ease skilled migrants’ integration but also retain them in the long run. 

To read the full article, please see the Journal of Global Mobility publication: 
Usanova, K., Zikic, J. and Vaiman, V. (2023), "Being an “outsider in”: skilled migrants' career strategies in local organizations", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.