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The social organization of the lives of ‘semi-skilled’ International Migrant Workers in Alberta: Political rationalities, administrative logic and actual behaviours




Rida Abboud


This institutional ethnography is an inquiry into the particular migrant category of International Migrant Workers (IMW) in Canada (otherwise known as Temporary Foreign Workers). It looks at how the daily lives of IMWs who have been deemed as ‘semi-skilled’ by the National Occupational Classification (NOC) system are organized by their immigration and job status in Canada. These IMWs are working primarily in the food service, hotel or retail industries in front-line and often precarious employment in Southern and Western Alberta. The data was collected through a literature review, interviews, observations, and textual analysis. The participants that informed this inquiry are IMWs, service providers in the immigrant sector, representatives from the Alberta Government, and an immigrant recruiter/consultant.

This study uses an ‘ideological circle’ (Yan, 2003), which maps out the process through which governmental ideology is filtered down to all levels of society via a set of ideas, knowledge, procedures and methods about people and processes. It provides a vehicle to identify the specific social relations that organize people in different sites. It becomes apparent through this mapping that along with the political rationalities of neoliberal criteria and the logic of globalization, and market civilization and citizenship, certain administrative logic and technologies of government such as situating IMWs as economic units in the Canadian nation-state, processes of skill codification, and devolution of immigration policies and programs, become the foundations for the ways that IMWs live their lives in Canada.

In particular, we can see how and why they ‘work’ for permanent residency, how and why they become vulnerable to precarious employment in their workplace and in other ways, and how and why they become isolated through family separation. The thesis ends with a look into how social workers and social service organizations are managing ‘professional’ relationships with migrant populations whose lives are organized in the above ways, and questions whether it’s possible at all to move beyond supporting ‘bare life’ (Agamben, 1998).

Number of pages



University of Toronto

Academic department

Factor Inwentash Faculty of Social Work



File Attachments


Economic sectors

Agriculture and horticulture workers, Food and beverage servers, Food counter attendants, kitchen helpers and related support occupations, and General relevance - all sectors

Content types

Policy analysis

Target groups


Geographical focuses


Spheres of activity

Philosophy, Sociology, and Social work