Precarious Status: Youth Mental Health at the Intersections of Identity and Migration

  • Amy Soberano
  • Philip Ackerman
  • Rosa Solorzano
Part of the Advances in Mental Health and Addiction book series (AMHA)


Introduction to Topic

The far-reaching impacts that precarious immigration status has on youth are only beginning to be documented and understood in Canada. Immigration status (or lack thereof) shapes accessibility and inclusiveness in terms of employment, housing, education, physical health, and other realms of daily life. The burden of inaccess exists in complex relationship with mental health and wellness, whereby underlying traumatic histories are not only aggravated for youth, but new challenges are fomented. Moreover, as the need for appropriate and sensitive support increases, the possibility of realizing this support is restricted by parameters of status. Thus, despite the growing Sanctuary City movement in Ontario and concerted efforts to increase access and awareness of the precarious migrant movement, the non-status body remains both illegalized and invisibilized.

Main Body

This chapter was developed in close communication with members of a Toronto-based group of precarious migrant youth. Through the unpacking of their lived experiences, we aim to offer a detailed account of ways in which precarious immigration status intersects with other markers of identity to shape navigation of mental health and appropriate support for youth. Grounded in an anti-oppressive, trauma-informed, and intersectional framework, this chapter will outline how experiences of mental health for migrant youth are manifested in a climate of precarity, with few outlets for feelings and frustrations, both within and beyond a bio-medical model.

Discussion and Implications

Despite tremendous diversity within this demographic, consultation with 13 primary informants elucidated four primary themes as characteristic of the precarious migrant youth experience in the Greater Toronto Area: illegalization, inaccess and exclusion, identity formation, and uncertainty about the future. Through the subsequent analysis it becomes increasingly clear that more nuanced attention and tenderness must be brought to this rising issue at multiple levels, through a client-centered, community-driven approach which seeks to amplify the voices of those most impacted. Cross-sectoral awareness and response needs to be shaped within an intersectional framework, placing greater emphasis on determinants of mental health—as well as access to meaningful interventions—as they are experienced by precarious status migrant youth.


Youth Migration Mental Health Immigration Status Access 


  1. Alboim, N., & Cohl, K. A. (2012). Shaping the future: Canada’s rapidly changing immigration policies. Toronto: Maytree Foundation.Google Scholar
  2. Bauder, H. (2013). Why we should use the term illegalized immigrant. RCIS Research Brief, 1–7.Google Scholar
  3. Bhuyan, R., Osborne, B., Zahraei, S., & Tarshis, S. (2014). Unprotected, unrecognized. Canadian immigration policy and violence against women, 2008–2013. University of Toronto.Google Scholar
  4. Brabeck, K., & Xu, Q. (2010). The impact of detention and deportation on Latino immigrant children and families: A quantitative exploration. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 32(3), 341–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bronstein, I., & Montgomery, P. (2011). Psychological distress in refugee children: A systematic review. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 14(1), 44–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Burstow, B. (2003). Toward a radical understanding of trauma and trauma work. Violence Against Women, 9(11), 1293–1317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Davis, A. (2008). A vocabulary for feminist praxis: On war and radical critique. In Feminism and war: Confronting US imperialism (pp. 19–26). New York, NY: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  8. Dozier, S. B. (1993). Emotional concerns of undocumented and out-of-status foreign students. Community Review, 13, 33–38.Google Scholar
  9. Ellis, L. M. (2010). Negotiating identity development among undocumented immigrant students (Doctoral dissertation, University of Toronto).Google Scholar
  10. Fazel, M., Reed, R. V., Panter-Brick, C., & Stein, A. (2012). Mental health of displaced and refugee children resettled in high-income countries: Risk and protective factors. The Lancet, 379(9812), 266–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. FCJ Youth Network. (2015). From youth to you. Retrieved from:
  12. FCJ Youth Network. (2016). Uprooted education 2015/2016 report. Retrieved from:
  13. Goldring, L., Berinstein, C., & Bernhard, J. K. (2009). Institutionalizing precarious migratory status in Canada. Citizenship Studies, 13(3), 239–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Guruge, S., & Butt, H. (2015). A scoping review of mental health issues and concerns among immigrant and refugee youth in Canada: Looking back, moving forward. Canadian Public Health Association, 106(2), 72–78.Google Scholar
  15. House of Commons Committees. (2009). Temporary foreign workers and non-status workers – Part II: Non-status workers. Retrieved from:
  16. Kamal, F. (2012). Immigration status and mental health: Invisible lives and hidden realities of undocumented youth: A pilot study (Doctoral dissertation, University of Toronto).Google Scholar
  17. Kamal, F., & Killian, K. D. (2015). Invisible lives and hidden realities of undocumented youth. Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees, 31(2).Google Scholar
  18. Khanlou, N. (2010). Migrant mental health in Canada. Canadian Issues, Summer, 9–16.Google Scholar
  19. Khanlou, N., Shakya, Y., & Muntaner, C. (2009). Mental health services for newcomer youth: Exploring needs and enhancing access. The Provincial Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health.Google Scholar
  20. Magalhaes, L., Carrasco, C., & Gastaldo, D. (2010). Undocumented migrants in Canada: A scope literature review on health, access to services, and working conditions. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 12(1), 132–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. McKenzie, K., Hansson, E., Tuck, A., & Lurie, S. (2010). Improving mental health services for immigrant, refugee, ethno-cultural and racialized groups. Canadian Issues, 65.Google Scholar
  22. No One Is Illegal—Toronto. (2011). Regularization—Status for all. Retrieved from:
  23. Rico-Martinez, Francisco. (2015). Exclusionary changes in the conservative immigration, refugee and citizenship policies: The beginning of the end. Retrieved from:
  24. Shakya, Y. B., Khanlou, N., & Gonsalves, T. (2010). Determinants of mental health for newcomer youth: Policy and service implications. Canadian Issues, 98.Google Scholar
  25. Steinberg, L., & Morris, A. S. (2001). Adolescent development. Journal of Cognitive Education and Psychology, 2(1), 55–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Villegas, P. E. (2014). ‘I can’t even buy a bed because I don’t know if I’ll have to leave tomorrow’: Temporal orientations among Mexican precarious status migrants in Toronto. Citizenship Studies, 18(3–4), 277–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community ServicesTorontoCanada
  2. 2.OISE, University of TorontoFCJ Refugee CentreTorontoCanada
  3. 3.FCJ Youth NetworkTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations