Immigrants entering the United States with foreign college degrees do not always receive a warm welcome from employers. For example, a 2018 article in The Philadelphia Enquirer newspaper told the story of a college-educated radio journalist from Haiti. The individual emigrated in 1999, sponsored by his father, a U.S. citizen. The Haitian had to work initially as a dishwasher, then as a corrections officer. Unfortunately for foreign college graduates, using your bachelor’s or master’s degree can be a difficult task.

Mal-employment is a term that refers to immigrants working at the U.S. level of high school education – despite having a college diploma. According to the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University, 36% of college-educated immigrants will be mal-employed. This percentage is double that of American educated college graduates. Asians and Africans have the highest percentage at 47 and 40, respectively. Graduates from China have the lowest at 23.6%.

The following is a look at select professions.


Transferring certain degrees requires additional education in the U.S. The requirements can vary by state. New York, for example, will accept foreign-trained lawyers provided they have at least three years of schooling in English Common Law. These attorneys may take the N.Y. bar exam after obtaining an Advance Evaluation of Eligibility from the State Board. Individuals who do not meet the three-year English law requirement must earn a Master of Laws (LLM).

California’s requirements are less strict. Foreign educated lawyers may sit for the bar if they have practiced law outside the United States. Those who have not practiced law but have a law degree need to complete an LLM. Vermont only requires an apprenticeship program before foreign lawyers sit for the Bar exam.


Foreign-educated teachers should start planning a year before their move, according to the U.S. Department of Education.  Most jobs in the U.S. require non-citizens to obtain a temporary or permanent visa from the U.S. embassy in their home country. Each state sets the criteria for teachers regarding degree, licensure, and certification. Therefore, teachers from abroad should check with the state in which they plan to work. Typically, the same teaching credentials apply to teachers from outside America. Namely, a bachelor’s degree, completion of an accredited teacher preparation program, and pass tests certifying proficiency in reading, writing, and mathematics. For example, the Praxis tests.

Foreign teachers may apply for a J-1 Visa as part of an exchange program. There are specific terms of the Visa, such as a minimum of two years of teaching experience and a valid teaching license from your home country. There is a time-limit of two years associated with the Visa. Its purpose is to offer foreign teachers exposure to American culture and the educational system.


Foreign-educated engineers may transfer their degree to the U.S. under stipulated conditions. Most importantly, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) must have endorsed college or university where you earned the degree. ABET accredits applied and natural science, computing, and engineering programs from associate through doctoral degrees. There are 4,144 programs at 812 colleges and universities in 32 countries with ABET accreditation.

Students who graduated from a foreign school without ABET accreditation require evaluation by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). Candidates must meet the coursework requirements, such as 32 semester hours of math and basic sciences and 48 hours of engineering science. The standards vary by state; therefore, engineering graduates need to check with the state where you want to work.


Foreign medical graduates or FMGs often require additional education before working in the healthcare sector in the U.S. There are high standards to earn a medical license in America. Students have pre-med, followed by four years of medical school, then internship and residency. Some foreign medical students did not receive training in physiology, molecular biology, or biochemistry. Also, the medical terms in English may differ from a foreign country, even for those fluent in English. Prospective physicians must take courses to satisfy the missing medical knowledge. They may need to take two U.S. Medical Licensing Examinations and complete a residency program.

Because of the stringent requirements to practice medicine, many doctors have had to start with a Bachelor of Science at a U.S. college. Or after additional education, work in nursing, physical therapy, radiology technician, or related field of healthcare, but not as a licensed physician.


There are no set rules when it comes to the transfer of degrees from foreign schools. A master’s degree in the Czech Republic may be considered a Bachelor’s degree with Honors in the U.S. There are too many variables determined by profession, the U.S. Department of Labor, the types of Visa, accrediting agencies,  employers, and more.

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