Offshore Outsourcing of Engineering Work

Talking Points

  • Outsourcing of engineering work should be done only when the talent cannot be found in the United States.
  • If outsourcing of engineering work is done, it should be done using the same rules, regulations, laws, and ethical codes that employers and employees are subject to in the U.S.
  • The engineering work should be performed without jeopardizing national security, and all parties should be made fully aware of the location and the conditions of where offshore work is being performed.

At the same time that foreign engineers are gaining access to the U.S. engineering job market through the H-1B and L-1 visa programs, many U.S. industrial and engineering companies have increasingly begun to use foreign "offshore" engineering workers to provide drafting, design, and other services for U.S. companies. In addition, to the significant financial savings of using engineering workers from countries with lower costs and standards of living (e.g., India, Russia, and China), these foreign engineers offer the benefit of providing services "around the clock" to their U.S.-based industrial and engineer clients.

While outsourcing proponents see financial and other benefits in using "offshore" engineers, U.S.-employed engineers believe outsourcing reduces engineering compensation, engineering employment, and opportunities for advancement within industry and engineering companies. Furthermore, state engineering licensure boards, such as the Florida Board of Professional Engineers, have recently questioned the legality of having such work performed "offshore." The boards argue that the services are not performed under the "responsible charge" of a licensed professional engineer. This is a general requirement of many state engineering licensure laws, and in Florida, responsible charge requires the physical presence of the professional engineer.

NSPE Position
It is NSPE's position that outsourcing of engineering work should be done only when the talent cannot be found in the United States. When a licensed PE considers signing and sealing documents not prepared in his physical presence, it is NSPE's position that the following conditions should apply:

  • The work, wherever it is done, should be done in accordance with the laws of the state in which the project is located;
  • The work should be done in accordance with the rules of the appropriate licensing board in the subject state;
  • The engineer must not be placed under duress to sign and seal documents that he or she does not feel are appropriately prepared;
  • The work should be performed in accordance with the applicable code of ethics; and
  • The engineer should acknowledge and respect the need to apply the appropriate national security precautions.

NSPE References
Motion on Placing Limitations on Offshore Outsourcing of Engineering Work - Adopted by NSPE Board of Directors (1/19/04)

Issue Brief and Position: