Blog: Impoverished In the Land of Opportunity

September 20, 2022

By Sintayoh Fissha Geberegziabher, ESPC Volunteer

Edmonton is a metropolitan area (1.4 million), the fifth largest urban center in Canada, and the fastest growing population over the past two decades. (1) Edmonton has a large manufacturing sector and above-average employment in services such as transportation, ambulatory health care, and education.  Since it’s a region with resources (oil and gas) and opportunities there is a large immigrant population that contributes to Edmonton’s Economic Growth.  The city has benefited from the inflow of people, and over the past ten years, the community has attracted an average of 12,000 immigrants from more than one hundred countries around the world. With statuses of temporary foreign workers, professional immigrants, students, and immigrants with no local documentation. More than 300,000 Edmontonians are of immigrant background and have changed the face of the city. (2) 

Edmonton, a city with a booming economy has helped immigrants to gain opportunities such as living in a peaceful environment, becoming food self-sufficient, and accessing basic services (education, health, transportation, and communication) but still many are facing economic, and social problems that continue to make their lives challenging. Due to skill and language barriers, immigrant women are often not able to get a full-time permanent job and are unable to explore the existing opportunities. This creates a barrier to fully integrating into the labour market compared to other population immigrants in Edmonton who suffer from higher unemployment rates, where most are assigned to temporary jobs. (3) 

The emphasis of this blog is to highlight the status of low-skilled female immigrants who came to Canada, specifically Edmonton, seeking better opportunities but still are economically disadvantaged. There are strong social and labour market participation benefits to attaining greater English language competency, but some participants reported being isolated in a language class for too many months becomes a detriment to their professional skills and their networking opportunities. Immigrant women of African origin are in many cases, found at the very bottom of the labour force. (4) They face double discrimination as both women and as Black. (5) Social support or welfare is helping immigrant women to feel emotionally well but is not serving to achieve their broader objectives. (6) Social supports help to address the resource gap of the low-income groups by balancing the income allocation and distribution (7)  

Comparative studies reveal that in any economy having a better social welfare system is necessary because: 

  • Signify the importance of optimal use of resources to fulfill human needs 
  • Helps market structure to adjust, and nurture maximum consumer and producer surplus 
  • Addresses the market distribution and structure 
  • Tackles the diverse economic problems; resource allocation, service availability, and access 
  • Draws insight into public finance 

Overall, a comparison of studies revealed a social welfare system with programs such as health care assistance, food stamps, housing, child tax benefit, and unemployment compensation offered to both, Canadian and immigrants who are in need is crucial.  

However, some studies showed that to improve the wellbeing of immigrant women increasing development funding in addition to social support is necessary. (3) The female immigrant population in Edmonton who struggle to integrate into the wider labour market; for a variety of reasons, need a sustainable way of living that enables them to achieve their dreams of having better lives. Policies and practices should consider the changing gender relations, cultural knowledge, increasing the development fund (training and capacity building), and informal support channels with African immigrants. (8)  


  • Create more jobs for female immigrants and encourage them to integrate into the labour market  
  • Provision of more orientation and training that encourages female immigrants to realize the necessity of integrating into the labour market, and the importance of financial independence  
  • Increase the economic development fund to decrease social expenses 
  • Evaluation of the existing system and examination of the gaps and barriers  


  1. Immigration Matters. (Spring 2019): Economic Profile Series: Edmonton, Alberta. 
  2. City of Edmonton. (2021). Belonging: Stories of the Dignity and resilience of immigrants: The state of immigration and settlement in Edmonton: Annual Report 2021. 
  3. Guo, S. (2010). Understanding immigrants’ downward social mobility: A comparative study of economic and social integration of recent Chinese immigrants in Calgary and Edmonton. Edmonton, AB: Prairie Metropolis Centre, University of Alberta. 
  4. Agrawal, S. (2015). Immigration and settlement in Edmonton: Literature review prepared for the Edmonton Local Immigration Partnership (E-LIP) Council. 
  5. Simich, L., Beiser, M., Stewart, M., and Mwakarimba, E. (2005). Providing Social Support for Immigrants and Refugees in Canada: Challenges and Directions. Journal of Immigrant Health, Vol. 7, No. 4. DOI: 10.1007/s10903-005-5123-1 
  6. J. Tettey, W., and P. Puplampu, K. (2005). The African diaspora in Canada: Negotiating identity and belonging. University of Calgary Press. 
  7. Stewart, M., Makwarimba, E., Kushner, K. Eastlick, Letourneau, N., Shizha, E., & Dennis, C. E. (2013). Social support intervention for Sudanese and Zimbabwean refugee new parents. Faculty of Nursing and School of Public Health, University of Alberta. DOI:10.1108/IJMHSC-07-2014-0028 
  8. Okeke-ihejirika, P., Salami, B., & Karimi, A. (2019). African Immigrant women transition and integration to Canadian society: Expectations, stressors, and tensions. Journal of Feminist Geography, 26(4). 


              Sintayoh Fissha has teaching and research experience in applied economics and development economics. She is currently living in Edmonton working as a researcher and sessional instructor at Grant MacEwan University. She is also working as a training facilitator at the Candora Society of Edmonton. As a socio-economist and community development expert she is interested to collaborate with people who are working on the areas of social policy growth, gender, poverty, and institution. 

              Related categories: Blog: Poverty
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