USA - working in the USA

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If you're thinking about working in the USA, or need more information about the requirements for working there, we've put together a brief guide to help you. 

If you're considering working in the USA, you should be aware that the right to work and getting a visa can be much more restrictive than you may expect.

To become a permanent resident you will require a Green Card. The most common ways to get one are through family or marriage, intra-company transfer visas and employer sponsorship.

Find out more about working in the US and Green Cards.

Licensure requirements

In the United States, licensure (registration) for the engineering and surveying professions is regulated by each individual state. Only licensed engineers can call themselves 'professional engineers' (PEs) and perform certain tasks.

While there are some similarities, such as requirements for education and work experience, the process for getting licensure in the USA is very different to the professional qualification process in the UK.

To get civil engineering licensure you must:

1. Hold a four-year ABET-accredited degree (or degree(s) assessed as equivalent)
2. Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. This is a six-hour multiple choice exam for recent graduates and students who are close to finishing an undergraduate engineering degree. The FE is now a computer-based which is administered all-year-round at approved centres
3. Have acceptable work experience (usually at least four years)
4. Pass the Professional Engineer exam in the relevant discipline (an eight-hour exam held twice a year in April and October)

Get an overview of licensure requirements.

Use of titles

The titles 'engineer', 'civil engineer' and others are protected in most states. However, the titles chartered engineer (CEng) and ICE member (MICE) are not legally recognised and can't be used as an alternative to professional engineer (PE).

It's possible to work in the field of civil engineering in the USA without licensure, depending on the type and level of work you're doing and if you're under the 'responsible charge' of a licensed PE. But if you don't get PE licensure, your range of work and employment opportunities will certainly be limited.

The State of Texas Engineering Practice Act prohibits the use of the title 'engineer' by anyone not licensed by the Texas Board of Professional Engineers. The Texas Board has issued a Policy Advisory Opinion that titles awarded in other States may be used, provided it is made clear on any business card, letterhead or other document that includes a Texas address that the person is not licensed to practice in Texas.

If you are an Engineering Council registrant and wish to use your UK title in Texas you should include "UK" immediately after the title, and clearly state that you are not licensed in Texas eg A N Other, Chartered Engineer, UK (not licensed in Texas). This provision does not enable UK engineers to practice professional engineering as set out in the Texas statute.

Engineering bodies

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World Trade Center hub

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES)

NCEES administers the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and Professional Engineer (PE) exams. It's a national not-for-profit organisation which promotes professional licensure for engineers and surveyors. The council's members are the engineering and surveying licensing boards from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. Find out more about NCEES.

State licensing boards

Each state has its own licensing board, which processes applications and awards the PE license. You can find details of each state licensing board, including details of the licensure requirements that are specific to that state, on the NCEES website.

American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)

ASCE is the national civil engineering society for knowledge transfer and events.

Membership of ASCE is not equivalent to ICE membership (MICE) as it is not a professional qualification, although there are specific criteria for membership. Chartered members of ICE (CEng MICE) should expect to be eligible for member or associate member grade, depending on the academic qualifications they hold, their experience, and place of residence at the time of applying. For example, to become a member, you must be a resident of the USA at the time of applying registration as a PE.

Recognition of professional qualifications

Overall, there is no formal recognition or exemption for CEng MICE in the USA, and members will have to apply to a state licensing board in the same way as a non-licensed engineer.

However, in September 2015, Idaho Board of Licensure of Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors became the first US state licensing board to approve the UK Chartered Engineer system as substantially equivalent to their own. This means that some CEng registrants can now apply for PE licensure in the same way as a PE from another US state, which is to apply "by comity" rather than "by exam".

To find out more about the criteria and making an application please visit the Engineering Council webpage: Working and Licensure in the USA.

You can also contact erp@ice.org.uk if you have any questions about the process.

In other states, to take the PE and FE exams you'll normally need at least a four-year, full-time degree, or equivalent. Some states will allow an exemption from the FE exam if you have significant experience (often more than 15 years).

Find out more about the exams

Getting non-US qualifications recognised by individual state licensing boards can be very difficult, particularly for older degrees. This is because you have to prove the units that were studied, as well as other information.

The USA's degree accreditation body, ABET, is a signatory to the Washington Accord (an agreement between engineering organisations in various countries to recognise each other's accredited academic qualifications). However, it is the individual state licensing boards, not ABET, which decide the academic requirements for PE licensure in their state.

To help with this process, NCEES provides a 'credentials evaluation' service for engineers with non-US/non-ABET-accredited qualifications which you may find useful.

After you've become licensed as a PE in one state, most others will grant their own PE licensure under a process known as comity or reciprocity. However, you may need to take additional exams on topics such as seismic design, surveying, business ethics and state law.

The most efficient way to become licensed in another state, may be to apply for an 'NCEES Record', although this may still take several months. Find out more about this service.

ICE and the Engineering Council are working with NCEES to get better recognition for Chartered Engineers, so please let us know through your regional representative or erp@ice.org.uk if you encounter any difficulties with the recognition of your academic qualifications when applying for PE licensure.

ICE in the USA

ICE has representatives in six regions of the USA. Find out how you can get in touch with your representative.

Our representatives are volunteer qualified members and are not immigration or employment agents; however they are able to offer more focused advice on practising civil engineering within their region. They would be happy to advise you.

Case study

This is an account of someone's experience in getting a PE license in one particular state in 2013. While it shouldn't use it as a blueprint for your own application, it will give you an idea of what to expect.

Get foreign degree evaluation from NCEES

Transcripts of courses taken, marks awarded and syllabus materials had to be submitted to NCEES (directly by my university). This is a time consuming and arduous step as the UK university system does not align with the US system of credits scores.

When evaluating the equivalency of a UK degree, NCEES are looking for specific data which must be checked off. To help overcome this, the relatively new European system of assigning credit hours to courses was helpful, but may require you to work with the university records/alumni office/faculty.

Apply for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam (known in some states as the Engineer-in-Training (EIT) exam

This involved submitting a summary of work experience, with no 'gaps'. This must also be verified by, typically, five engineers who know the candidate, have worked with them and can testify to their experience. Typically, at least three of these engineers must be PEs licensed to practice in the US. So, expect to work a couple of years or more in the US, to build experience that can be verified in the US. My UK experience was verified by a chartered engineer and ICE fellow (CEng FICE), but I still needed three licensed PEs in addition to that.

Residency status/authorisation to work in the US (I.e. a government-issued immigration authorisation)

In my case I had to provide a copy of my Green Card, but residency is not a requirement for registration in every state.

The Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam

This was a demanding exam, lasting eight hours. Please note: the exam requirements and process have now changed. Please visit the NCEES website for current details.

The morning session was four hours and comprised 120 multiple-choice (A, B, C or D) questions on a broad range of engineering and science subjects. These included mathematics, mechanics, statics, dynamics, fluid statics and dynamics, thermodynamics, hydraulics open channel flow, pipe flow, pumps, materials, engineering economics, chemistry, biology, heat transfer, kinematics, kinetics, electrostatics and electromagnetics, AC and DC circuits, three-phase electricity, rotating electrical machines, electronics, computer systems, engineering law and ethics.

The afternoon session was four hours long and comprised 60 multiple-choice questions. When you apply, you choose a discipline to be examined on in the afternoon session. I chose the general or 'other disciplines' option which is essentially more of the same topics that were examined in the morning. The other choices were chemical, civil, electrical, environmental, industrial, or mechanical.

I chose 'other disciplines' as it effectively reduced the breadth of topics I studied to prepare. Being able to manage your time pressure under exam conditions (one question every two minutes in the morning, and one every four minutes in the afternoon) and preparing adequately are the keys to success.

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World Trade Center transport hub

Preparing for the FE exam

My advice is to allow at least six months of preparation time, and preferably a year if you're several years out of university. Reference materials are available, including sample practice exam questions – for example, Professional Publications, Inc., which is a well known series by Lindeburg. The most reliable path to success is doing many practice problems under timed conditions.

I tracked my preparation hours, which helped me keep focus. I logged about 450 hours over a 12-month period. In the three months prior to the exam, I studied at least two to three hours per night, five to six nights a week. It's a demanding time, that needs careful planning and dedication around work and personal/family commitments.

Applying for the PE exam

After passing the FE exam, apply for the Professional Engineer exam, providing you've got enough experience. The state boards vary in this respect but, typically, four years is needed. Application forms are completed and submitted to the state board – this process may take three months or more. Find out more about the current requirements

Additional experience verification is required, and typically five engineers need to submit reference forms to verify the experience. At least three must be PEs in the USA.

Once granted permission to sit the PE exam, the candidate then applies to NCEES for a sitting. The PE exam is offered twice per year, in April and October.

The PE exam

The PE exam is also an eight-hour exam. The four-hour morning session is the 'breadth' exam and is the same for all engineering disciplines. The 'civil' breadth exam covers topics in construction, geotechnics, structures, transportation, water resources and environmental engineering.

The four-hour afternoon 'depth' session covers topics in the candidates selected specialism. In my case, that was geotechnical engineering. My advice is to take the PE as soon as you can after the FE, as the preparation work will still be fresh. Again, there are reference materials available and practice sample questions.

There are 40 questions in the morning and 40 questions in the afternoon. Maintaining exam focus for eight hours, and managing time (one question every six minutes) is the key to success. I, like most engineers I know, found the PE exam reasonably straightforward and more in keeping with my everyday work. Consequently, preparation time was less than the FE – about three months, working two hours per night, five nights per week.

Costs

Costs of this process will vary but you should budget for around $2,000.

This covers costs associated with foreign degree evaluation, FE application to the state board, PE application to the state board, NCEES FE exam fee, NCEES PE exam fee, overseas postage, passport photographs, hotel and travel costs associated with attending the FE and PE exams (usually travel required the day before, to a restricted number of locations within any particular state), costs of FE and PE review manuals, FE and PE sample questions, FE and PE sample exam publications, PE stamp, PE license certificate.

Costs will increase if FE and PE review courses are attended externally, either classroom based or online.

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