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Refugees’ narratives of career barriers and professional identity

Kate Mackenzie Davey (Department of Organizational Psychology, Birkbeck, University of London, London, UK)
Catherine Jones (Department of Organizational Psychology, Birkbeck, University of London, London, UK)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 21 August 2019

Issue publication date: 13 January 2020



The purpose of this paper is to examine how refugees from a professional career domain restore a coherent narrative when confronting barriers to recognition of their former career status. It focuses in particular on the identity work in which they engage in order to reconcile tensions between their current status as refugees and their professional identity.


In total, 15 refugees to the UK who were professionally qualified in medicine or teaching in their country of origin took part in interviews or focus groups exploring career barriers, plans and future aspirations. Initial inductive thematic analysis identified recognition of professional identities as a primary concern. Further analytic iterations between theory and empirical material sharpened the focus on identifying the tensions in their professional identity work.


Participants struggled both to restore their former professional identity and to develop alternative identities. Professional identity work limited, but also sustained them in the face of barriers they encountered as refugees.

Practical implications

More support for refugee career development would facilitate adaptation to local job markets, thereby addressing gaps in education and health services in the UK.


The paper highlights the tensions in refugee professional identity work and particularly the challenges and rewards of professional identification in the face of employment barriers.



The authors would like to thank the special issue editors, especially Professor Julia Richardson, and three anonymous reviewers for their help developing this paper. The author would also like to thank the participants and the organizations that support refugees.


Mackenzie Davey, K. and Jones, C. (2020), "Refugees’ narratives of career barriers and professional identity", Career Development International, Vol. 25 No. 1, pp. 49-66.



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