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08.22.2014
Comment> Alfred Vidaurri
NCARB Tri-National program opens the doors for North American practice.
Architect representatives from Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. meeting in Mexico City.
Courtesy FCARM, Mexico City

Today, our world and practices have become more globally connected, reinforcing the need for mutual recognition that opens the doors both domestically and internationally to qualified architects. I am excited about the “Tri-National Mutual Recognition Agreement for International Practice,” a National Council of Architectural Registration Board (NCARB) program that eliminates barriers among eligible architects interested in practicing throughout North America. The careful planning, execution, and overall rigor of this process recognizes the standards of professional licensure and collaborative efforts to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Since the signing of the original document in 2005, subsequent leaders from Mexico, the United States, and Canada have continued to work together and developed clarifying amendments in 2008 and 2010.

 
Alfred Vidaurri.
 

The genesis of this program dates back to the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. While the NAFTA agreement did not require or establish any recognition of licensure credentials, it did initiate a common discussion among regulatory leaders and professionals in the three countries. After many years of discussion and negotiations, the three countries first signed a Mutual Recognition Agreement in October 2005. Many organizations and interests were represented in this milestone agreement including:

•    Comite Mexicano para la Practica Internacional de la Arquitectura (COMPIAR)
•    Federacion de Colegios de Arquitectos de la Republica Mexicana (FCARM)
•    Asociacion de Instituciones de Enseñanza de la Arquitectura de la Republica Mexicana (ASINEA)
•    National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB)
•    Canadian Architectural Licensing Authorities (CALA)
•    American Institute of Architects (AIA) as a supporting organization
•    Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) as a supporting organization

National representatives of COMPIAR, NCARB and CALA were the primary governing bodies and signatories of this agreement. National representatives of AIA and RAIC, representing the profession of architecture within the United States and Canada, endorsed and supported the Agreement with their signatures. In June 2006, the NCARB Member Board ratified the Agreement at its annual meeting, thus opening the door for the future recognition of credentials. With ratification by NCARB, and the other countries, work focused on the implementation and protocol of the requirements outlined to administer the program.

The Mutual Recognition Agreement, which facilitates reciprocity among Mexico, the United States, and Canada, outlines specific requirements that any architect pursuing licensure across the borders must satisfy. A few of the basic eligibility requirements include:

•    Completion of an accredited or recognized architecture program by the NAAB, ASINEA/COMAEA, or CACB.
•    A minimum of 10 year’s defined professional experience by an architect licensed in their home jurisdiction, at least two years of which must be in responsible control.
•    Submission of a dossier of the applicant’s work to satisfy the specific requirements outlined in the agreement related to “responsible control and comprehensive practice.”
•    The dossier of the applicant’s work must first be submitted and approved by their “Home Jurisdiction Review Body” to determine satisfaction of eligibility requirements and to demonstrate competence to independently practice architecture in the host jurisdiction.
•    Proof of “Good Standing” in their home jurisdiction.
•    Knowledge of the codes, laws, and other matters applicable to the practice of architecture of that country’s jurisdiction.
•    The applicant may be asked to participate in an interview before a review panel in the host jurisdiction, conducted in the language of the host jurisdiction. (To date, all applicants have been interviewed by a panel from the country receiving the request for consideration.)

Earlier this year, the implementation of the long discussed program reached an important milestone with the granting of a NCARB Certificate to two Mexican architects who had completed the formal pilot program of the Tri-National Mutual Recognition Agreement for International Practice. As of today, there have been three Mexican applicants and one United States applicant.

I have had the honor of being involved with the program since 2007. Over the years I have participated in four meetings (two in Washington, D.C. and two in Mexico) with representatives from all three countries as we have worked together to clarify and implement the program. Additionally, several other meetings have taken place involving representatives from each country observing the processes and protocol each country currently has in place. In 2013, the program received dossier submittals from three Mexican architects interested in applying for the NCARB Certificate. We also received a dossier from one U.S. architect interested in entry into Mexico through the program. The committee reviewed the submitted credentials and dossier of all the applicants and granted approval to schedule personal interviews with the Mexican architects. I had the privilege of reviewing all of the submittals and interviewing each applicant. I was impressed with the overall experience, credentials, and skills of the Mexican architects. U.S. architects interviewed each Mexican architect in Washington, D.C., following the requirements outlined in the Recognition Agreement. The interview process was conducted in English and is very rigorous for the applicant and review panel. Due to the high-profile significance of this agreement, the interviews have also included a number of non-voting observers from all three countries. In the end, two of the three Mexican architects were found to meet all of the requirements and were granted NCARB Certificates.

It is important to note that any applicant who seeks recognition in the United States, and successfully completes the program, is granted a NCARB Certificate. Upon receipt of a certificate the applicant would still be required to seek registration “through reciprocity” directly with one of the 54 jurisdictions in the United States. (The 54 jurisdictions are made up of all 50 states plus Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia.) Currently, the Broadly Experienced Foreign Architect (BEFA) program, a similar review and evaluation process, is accepted by 46 jurisdictions. The goal is to have the Tri-National Mutual Recognition path accepted by all jurisdictions.

At the time of this writing, one of the two Mexican architects who received their NCARB Certificate has applied to the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners for licensure. Texas accepted the rigor and high standard of this alternate path represented by the certificate and issued a license. It will be interesting to see how many architects from each country will eventually attempt to seek licensure to one of the other countries through this path. I suspect that the economic climate and expanding project opportunities for foreign architects in each country will be a factor in how many will utilize this Tri-National path to licensure.

In addition to the Tri-National Mutual Recognition program, NCARB also oversees two other alternate path programs that benefit both domestic and a wider range of international architects. The Broadly Experienced Foreign Architect (BEFA) program is a similar program that is open as an alternate path for foreign architects to apply for NCARB certification and obtain registration in a U.S. jurisdiction. This path provides a broader opportunity for architects, licensed in a foreign country with seven years of comprehensive practice, to seek certification. Similarly, there is a domestic program known as the Broadly Experienced Architect (BEA) program that provides opportunities for U.S. architects that did not graduate from a NAAB-accredited program to demonstrate that they have gained learning through experience and meet the requirements of the NCARB Education Standard. Because of the maturity of these programs (BEFA created in 2003, and BEA in 1997) both are currently being reviewed by NCARB, looking for ways to streamline the process, broaden those that qualify, and lower overall cost while maintaining the high standard and rigor of each.

Alfred Vidaurri, Jr.

Alfred Vidaurri, Jr is the NCARB Southern Region Chair and the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners Chair.