Journal of Social Sciences

Norm Divergence Opportunity Structure and Utilization of Self-Employed Immigrants' Qualifications

Shahamak Rezaei and Marco Goli

DOI : 10.3844/jssp.2009.163.176

Journal of Social Sciences

Volume 5, Issue 3

Pages 163-176


Problem statement: Denmark experienced one of the most successful periods of its economy in 2004-2008, with a tremendous reduction of 77% in unemployment. Due to the structural challenges with regard to the labor market the utilization of immigrants’ qualifications has come up to the surface of political and societal debate in Denmark. The focus of this study was challenges to that utilization. Focusing on opportunity structure and the formal and informal components of the concept and self-employment among migrants as one of the major strategies towards upward socioeconomic mobility, this study attempted to establish "norm divergence" (between natives and migrants) as the analytical framework. Establishing "the norm divergence" empirically, we contributed to the development of a theoretical framework for understanding the socio-economic strategic choices of migrants in a European universal welfare state with an open economy. Approach: In order to establish the norm and the state of art we used the recent quantitative data 2001 and 2004 mapping the distribution of all self-employed migrants with national background in third countries with regard to (a) Business line: What they were doing and (b) Educational level: What was the level of their formal education. In order to make comparisons possible we had extracted data on 10% of self-employed with native Danish background. Searching for explanations, we included a wide range of qualitative data as semi-structured in-person interviews following an interview guideline. A total of 43 interviewees had been conducted were grouped into two categories: (1) Self-employed immigrants in Denmark and self-employed immigrants who had emigrated from Denmark and were now self-employed in other countries. (2) Governmental/semi governmental or private agencies dealing with the issue of self-employment among immigrants from third countries. Results: A considerable share of self-employed immigrants who had obtained vocational educations in Denmark-that was in comparison with native equivalents- and an even larger share of immigrants with educational records obtained abroad were placed in business lines identified as "the typical immigrant businesses". We find that the patterns of norm divergence can be explained by two sets of factors: One was the formal as well as the informal, e.g., substantially experienced by self employed immigrants, opportunity structure and the second was the type of qualifications that were required and developed in the informal economy, that produced and utilized specific comparative advantages. Conclusion: The traditionally used concepts like "over-education" or "mismatch" should be replaced by the concept of "Norm divergence" as far as the issue was discussed and analyzed within the framework of integration policy. That was the case in the Danish context as well as in many other European countries, where integration into the norms of the society was a premises as well as a requirement.


© 2009 Shahamak Rezaei and Marco Goli. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.