Immigrant Architects: Why A Career Change Is Worth It

Immigrating to a new country can be a challenging and exciting experience, full of opportunities and obstacles. For architects, the process can be particularly complex. On one hand, they may have the technical skills and experience needed to work in their field anywhere in the world. On the other hand, they may encounter barriers to entry, such as recertification, cultural differences, and different professional standards. This raises the question: should immigrant architects make a career change when they move abroad? This article will explore the pros and cons of doing so, and offer advice for architects who are either in this position or are planning on it.

I have compiled a list of factors to consider based on my own experience as an immigrant architect, as well as the experiences of others, to aid in making a well-informed decision.

  1. Passion
  2. Age
  3. Recertification Barrier
  4. Architect’s Salary
  5. Professional Standards

Passion

Passion plays a crucial role in choosing a career, and it comes with numerous advantages. When you are passionate about your work, you are more likely to be motivated and invested in it, which can result in higher job satisfaction and overall well-being, particularly in the field of architecture where a great deal of passion is needed.

If architecture is the profession that brings you the most joy, then it is worth pursuing, otherwise, it’s better to choose a profession that you like and suits you. Remember that immigration is always an opportunity to start over professionally. People who like what they do are often more creative and motivated to continuously learn and improve, which can lead to more opportunities for career advancement.

Age

From my observations, many architects tend to immigrate at an older age compared to their peers in other professions and often have families as well when they do. At this stage of immigration, they are less inclined to start over their career but more focused on advancement. Therefore, when faced with obstacles such as recertification, language, or cultural barriers, they may feel that it is not worth investing the time and effort to overcome these challenges and instead opt for more profitable alternatives with less stringent entry requirements. Additionally, the expenses of settling in a new country and the need to plan finances carefully to start earning quickly also play a role.

Age is a significant factor that should not be ignored. If you find this to be a pressing concern, I would suggest first establishing yourself in a profession that allows you to quickly advance in your career. If later on, you still have an interest in architecture, you can pursue it, otherwise, you can continue to grow in your new profession.

Recertification barrier

In most countries, immigrant architects face barriers when it comes to recertification. In Canada for example, all foreign-trained immigrant architects seeking to pursue licensure are required to recertify with the Canadian Architectural Certification Board (CACB) through two general processes:

  1. Individuals who possess an architecture license for over 7 years in their home country and have related work experience will be required to complete a 6-month work internship and pass an interview with the board before being granted a license to practice in Canada. The total estimated cost for this will be 6,000 Canadian dollars.
  2. Individuals without a foreign architecture license for a maximum of 7 years will need to complete a 2-3 year work internship (paid) and pass exams with a professional association before they are eligible to receive a license to practice in Canada.

This can be a difficult and time-consuming process, especially for immigrants who are not familiar with the local standards such as the codes and the bylaws. Additionally, language barriers can also make it difficult for some immigrant architects to navigate the recertification process. As an example, I have encountered architects from Mexico (who speak Spanish) who chose to become architectural technologists due to the challenge of going through the process of recertification. Some countries such as the United States have mutual recognition agreements with Canada for example, which can ease the process.

I observe that architects, particularly those who are registered in their home country, are often not eager to go through a lengthy recertification procedures and will frequently choose alternative career paths, where they can utilize their expertise and experience to circumvent this obstacle.

Architect’s salary

Given the barriers to entry in the field of architecture, one would expect that the compensation for architects is proportional to the required education, certification, and perceived prestige of the profession. However, when compared to other professions, the compensation is less than expected. In the United States, for example, the average annual salary for architects is around $87,000, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Canada, the average annual salary is around $80,000 according to data from PayScale. In the United Kingdom, architects can earn an average salary of around £40,000 to £60,000 per year, depending on experience and location. In Australia, the average salary for architects is around $80,000 to $100,000 per year, according to data from the Australian government’s Job Outlook website. In India, the average salary for architects is around 5-8 Lacs per annum. According to data from the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA), the median annual salary for architects in Nigeria was NGN 2,200,000 (about $5,800) in 2020.

When compared with professions with lesser entry requirements like project management, in the United States, for example, the average annual salary for project managers is around $93,000. In Canada, the average annual salary is around $87,000. In the United Kingdom, project managers can earn an average salary of around £40,000 to £60,000 per year. In Australia, the average salary for project managers is around $110,000 per year. In India, the average salary for project managers is around 7-12 Lacs per annum.

Some even argue that IT professionals earn significantly more than licensed architects. Therefore, when considering the barriers to entry and potential income in the profession, architecture does not seem as attractive as it should and one may be inclined to pursue careers with higher pay and lower barriers to entry.

Profesional standards

Architecture being a very regulated field, architects are held to a strict professional standards including codes of conduct that architects must adhere to, such as rules related to professional liability, conflicts of interest, and maintaining confidentiality. Failure to comply with these standards can result in disciplinary action, fines, or loss of license. Also, as the construction industry standards vary from country to country, an immigrant architect needs to adapt to different building codes, municipal bylaws, safety regulations, building construction methods and materials. It, therefore, requires time to understand the specific regulations and standards of the new country.

It is obvious that mastering these standards takes time and effort. When making the decision to pursue a career in architecture, it’s important to keep in mind the challenges that come with it and to prepare oneself mentally for the journey.

In conclusion, the decision of whether or not to change careers as an immigrant architect is not an easy one and requires careful consideration of various factors such as passion, age, recertification barriers, an architect’s potential salary, etc. Passion is an important factor to consider because it leads to higher job satisfaction and overall well-being, particularly in the field of architecture where a great deal of passion is needed. Age is also a significant factor as many architects tend to immigrate at an older age and are more focused on career advancement. Recertification barriers can be difficult and time-consuming and might cause some immigrant architects to opt for more profitable alternatives with less stringent entry requirements. Ultimately, it’s important for architects to weigh their options and make a decision that is best for them and their career goals.

2 thoughts on “Immigrant Architects: Why A Career Change Is Worth It”

  1. Hello Ehimen,
    This is George, glad to see you write again. This is a very nice article and I am presently at this stage of making a decision to either change career or continue my pursuit as an Architect. I have gotten my CACB certification and awaiting response from OAQ to register as an intern. The language barrier here is not helping matters. Right now, I am undergoing some training on IT as a junior IT analyst just incase.
    Thank you for all the advices and encouragement. Will keep you posted.

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