Acquiring a visa to work in the United States isn't the only obstacle immigrants face when it comes to landing a job in this country. Many people who are certified professionals abroad have to apply for recertification once they get to the U.S. That makes a lot of sense in many ways. The country asks its doctors, for example, to maintain certain ethical standards that aren't in place the world over.
But the recertification process could use some help. A recent Migration Policy Institute report on the topic noted that "because of the United States' decentralized federal system, no single structure governs professional certification in regulated occupations." That means there's little uniformity so immigrants find themselves struggling to obtain the necessary credentials.
As baby boomers age and the Affordable Care Act takes effect, the healthcare sector is looking to hire thousands of new workers. There are qualified foreign-trained professionals who can help fill that need, but right now, the certification process poses an expensive and time-consuming barrier.
Here are six professions that regularly face this issue.
Today, more than a quarter of the physicians practicing in the U.S. are foreign trained, but the path to practicing medicine in this country is anything but easy. As MPI notes, "Foreign-trained medical professionals must validate foreign academic training, prepare for and pass medical licensing examinations, and learn a new system of treatment methods and protocols, vocabulary, professional ethics, and workplace structures. Beyond that, they must generally complete a three- to eight-year residency, even if they had progressed well beyond this stage in their career abroad."
Obtaining a nursing license is so difficult for foreign-trained professionals that they are often instructed to try "career-laddering." That means they first take a job as a technician or assistant for several years to acquire the credentials to practice nursing before actually getting a job as a registered nurse in the U.S.
Like nurses, many foreign-trained pharmacists take lower-skilled jobs before becoming licensed pharmacists. Requirements vary by state, but foreign-trained pharmacists are asked to do everything from 500 initial practice hours to sit before a board to prove they know English before they can work.
Finding work as a foreign-educated engineer is generally easier than it is for healthcare professionals, but some employers require foreign-educated engineers to take the Principles and Practices of Engineering exam before they are hired. Engineers must pass that exam before they can stamp and seal designs, bid for government contracts, own a firm, perform consulting services, advertise to the public, or testify as an expert witness. To pass the exam, engineers must prove they've graduated from an accredited university and show professional experience.
Lawyers must pass a bar exam before they can practice law, but some states place restrictions on foreign-educated lawyers who want to sit for the bar. Many states require those sitting for the bar to have a Juris Doctor from a school accredited by the American Bar Association. There are no accredited JD schools outside of the U.S., except in Puerto Rico. Some states will accept an LL.M, or Latin Legum Magister, which requires foreign lawyers to study U.S. law during a one-year program. Those programs can be expensive.
Each state has separate certification procedures for foreign-educated teachers, but they often require submission of a credential evaluation report that explains the applicant's foreign credentials. Also, if a foreign-educated teacher receives a credential in Oklahoma, for example, and then moves to california, she will have to complete additional California credentialing requirements before setting foot in a classroom. Those can take multiple years. One option is to teach in a private school, which may not require teacher certification, but private school teachers sometimes make less money.