WASHINGTON — Foreign-trained professionals in the United States often encounter significant obstacles on their path to professional practice, among them difficulties in demonstrating the value of their past work experience and qualifications. Many must be formally recertified in the United States before they can legally practice their profession.
Because of the United States’ decentralized federal system, no single structure governs professional certification in regulated occupations — resulting in a profusion of overlapping and sometimes contradictory national, state and local rules and exams that are often costly, complicated and time-consuming for immigrant professionals to navigate.
A new Migration Policy Institute report, Credential Recognition in the United States for Foreign Professionals, examines the U.S. credential recognition process, particularly with regards to recertification in the medical and engineering sectors, and offers some recommendations for improvements. The report is the first published as part of a European Union-funded research project investigating how governments can improve the recognition of foreign qualifications through domestic public policies and international cooperation. Additional reports in the series will focus on international labor mobility and qualifications recognition within the engineering profession and on new trends in government and private-sector responses to credential-recognition problems.
Credential recognition is currently on the EU agenda, with a process underway to reform the professional qualifications directive that regulates the recognition of credentials in regulated occupations. A revised version of the directive, expected to be finalized later this year, is being designed with an eye to further reducing barriers to intra-EU mobility in these occupations.
This policy area is under review in a number of other countries as well, with governments from Australia and Canada to Germany and Norway increasingly recognizing the need to address the underemployment for foreign professionals that results from inadequate credential recognition.
In the United States, no significant efforts are underway at the federal level to reduce barriers to the transfer of skills and experience brought by internationally trained professionals; however, a handful of states, including New York, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, are taking steps to improve credential-recognition processes for certain internationally trained professionals.
The Migration Policy Institute estimates that more than 1.6 million college-educated immigrants in the United States were underemployed or unemployed as of 2011.
“On both sides of the Atlantic, evidence abounds that immigrants are often prevented from putting their skills to productive use because their qualifications, experience and knowledge are not readily recognized in their destination country,” said Margie McHugh, co-director of MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy. “The resulting waste of human capital represents a loss not just to these immigrants, but also to employers, host communities and our economy.”
The report released today notes that barriers to professional practice in the United States are particularly daunting in the medical profession, where more than 25 percent of practicing physicians are foreign trained.
“The medical sector must expand to accommodate an aging population and the entry of millions of new customers as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Now more than ever, it is foolish not to address expensive and unnecessary barriers that prevent qualified physicians and other health care professionals who were trained abroad from putting their education and skills to work here in the United States,” McHugh said.
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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more on MPI, please visit www.migrationpolicy.org.