Published: May 18, 2021


The interaction of immigration and gender on women’s employment outcomes has been a key research question for Life Course Centre Senior Research Fellow, Dr Rennie Lee.

Dr Lee, who joined the Life Course Centre at the Institute for Social Science Research at The University of Queensland in October 2020, recently presented a Centre seminar on the employment trajectories of immigrant women in the United States and Australia. Her presentation highlighted the contrasting immigration policies of the US, dominated by family reunification, and Australia, where labour is the main driver.

Family migration accounts for 71% of total immigration in the US, with labour comprising 21% and humanitarian 8%. By contrast, labour accounts for 62% of total immigration in Australia, followed by family migration 29% and humanitarian 9%.

Despite these differences, Dr Lee has found that immigrant women are disadvantaged in their employment outcomes under the US and Australian visa systems. “In both the family reunification-based and labour skills-based regimes, immigrant women are disadvantaged in their labour market trajectories in employment and hours worked,” Dr Lee said. ‘Immigrant women who are secondary applicants are particularly disadvantaged in their labour market outcomes.”

With neither the US nor Australian visa systems currently providing gender equal labour market outcomes for immigrant women, this points to other factors being at play such as immigrant families’ gendered norms and household decisions. “The interaction between gender and entry visas has not been fully explored,” Dr Lee said.

“But entry visas are interacting with gender norms, family responsibilities and household strategies to produce different employment outcomes for immigrant men and women in both the US and Australia. For immigrant women, the biggest barrier is getting into employment. We need to be thinking more about gender in this area.”

Dr Lee is a sociologist with interests in migration, race and ethnicity, immigrant families and inequality. Prior to joining the Life Course Centre at UQ, she was at the University of Melbourne, and before that, at Florida International University.

Her published research with Life Course Centre researchers includes: Making it Work: Migration, Motherhood and Employment in Australia.

Pictured at right: Dr Lee (centre) at the Life Course Centre seminar with Centre Director Professor Janeen Baxter (left) and Centre PhD student Nikita Sharma (right).