This study considers long-term adaptation among well-educated Iraqis who applied for international protection in Finland in 2015. We interviewed the participants approximately 3 months after their arrival, and subsequently after being granted international protection 1.5 and 2.5 years after arrival. We apply a theoretically constructed Benefits of Employment in Intercultural Contexts model in the context of skilled refugees to examine the role of employment in their acculturation process. We analysed the data using qualitative content analysis. Despite the difficulties faced at the beginning of the asylum and job-search processes, employment – including inadequate employment that connected an individual to a work community – enhanced participants’ subjective well-being and promoted their whole acculturation process. The key explanation seems to lie not in increasing economic wealth but in the establishment of social networks, a sense of collective purpose, a possibility to maintain a positive identity, and importantly, the accumulation of cultural capital that employment or active functioning in work-life-related contexts enabled. By the end of the follow-up period, the aforementioned latent benefits of employment were more salient, while the urge to manifest benefits, i.e. salary, had lessened due to reconciling with having to make ends meet with the help of social benefits.

DOI: 10.1093/rsq/hdz009
ISSN: 1020-4067