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By Darrel Danyluk, P.Eng.
Canadians are fairly used to travelling to the United States for visits or holidays and usually doso without much fuss and bother at the border. Matters can get somewhat more tricky if, as a Canadian professional engineer or geoscientist, you are travelling to the U.S. on business.
I am happy to report that when APEGGA Executive Director and Registrar Neil Windsor, P.Eng., and I ventured to the U.S. in April to attend a couple of conferences, we faced smooth sailing through customs and immigration. However, the conferences we attended one a joint meeting of the Washington and Idaho state Societies of Professional Engineers in Post Falls, Idaho, the other, the Western Zone Meeting of the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), in Monterey, California provided us with some valuable insight into the sometime bewildering landscape of professional regulation and licensing south of the border.
That, in turn, may explain why despite quite a number of years of negotiations under the NAFTA agreement (with the active involvement of former APEGGA President John R. McDougall, P.Eng.) that impediments still remain to mobility of professionals including engineers and geoscientists between Canada and the U.S. The level of accessibility, ease of entry and reciprocity also varies considerably from one U.S. state to another.
Whats at stake is more than barriers to movement by individual professionals although that in itself is important. There is an underlying issue of unencumbered movement of services. As with trade barriers on goods, rules and regulations which hinder the flow of skills and services leave everyone poorer by limiting where we can offer our engineering and geoscience services, and by restricting from where we can draw on foreign expertise.
Mutual Recognition Agreement
I invite you to check an article published in this issue of The PEGG (Page 12). The article was prepared by Wendy Ryan-Bacon, P.Eng., Vice President of International Affairs with the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers (CCPE). Ms. Ryan-Bacon reminds us that a NAFTA Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) was signed by Canadian, American and Mexican representatives in 1995 and, as she notes, the accord provides a means for recognizing the qualifications of engineers working temporarily in another NAFTA jurisdiction. The National Society of Professional Engineers, and the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology in the U.S. ratified the MRA without reservations in 1995. The third American national body which had to ratify the MRA, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, gave provisional ratification for a two-year period which now has expired. The expiration of the NCEES ratification has had the effect of making the MRA technically unapproved in the U.S.
Texas, which with its proximity to Mexico has its owns special reasons for seeing the MRA take effect, is one of the few U.S. jurisdictions to take proactive steps to see the agreement implemented. The net effect of American inaction is that the MRA is not being applied.
Troubling as it is that the MRA has not been implemented, even more disconcerting is the fact that other legislative wheels were turning which could have made it even more difficult for foreign nationals to work in the U.S. In effect, non-U.S. professionals were almost caught in the gears of a major 1996 Welfare Reform Act which among its provisions curbed "public benefits" for foreigners. As the U.S. newsletter Professional Licensing Report noted last October: "Public benefits were specified as including any grant, contract, loan, professional licence, (my emphasis) or commercial licence provided by an agency of a state or local government or by appropriated funds of a state or local government."
After concerns were raised, notably by the Canadian government, the U.S. Congress passed and President Bill Clinton last fall signed the somewhat clumsily titled Non-Citizen Benefits Clarification and Other Technical Amendment Act of 1998, which Professional Licensing Report notes allows "the issuance of a professional licence to, the renewal of a professional licence, by a foreign national not physically present in the United States."
While the bill signed by President Clinton may have prevented matters from getting worse, it illustrates the fact when it comes to professional mobility, particularly in the case of the U.S., we may be so busy fighting rearguard actions that it becomes difficult to implement the word or the spirit of the Mutual Recognition Agreement.
While the U.S. with its 55 jurisdictions (counting states and territories) presents a confusing patchwork of professional licensing and regulation that hinders movement between jurisdictions, we must admit that within Canada too there have been some roadblocks to interprovincial mobility. I am pleased to say that through diligent work and co-operation among the provincial Associations and with CCPE we have drafted an updated mobility agreement which should make it much easier for professional engineers registered and in good standing in one province to move to or practice in another province. The agreement confirms procedures for sharing among the Associations of relevant information on members seeking to work elsewhere. It also provides assurances that engineers seeking to work in another jurisdiction meet the experience requirements of the provincial or territorial Association where they wish to work.
The mobility agreement is scheduled to be signed when CCPE holds its Annual General Meeting in Yellowknife, N.W.T., later this month.
The mobility agreement should bring practical benefits to practitioners but it also carries a powerful symbolic value in showing non-Canadians including regulators, officials and engineering associations that, when it comes to mobility, we are prepared to get our own house in
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