ALERT: Attorneys and Employers Be on the Lookout for False Translations

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Unless their documents are already written in English degree is from the United States, all work Visa applicants must have their educational documents translated into English and evaluated for US equivalence. For this reason, some translation firms now offer credential evaluation services. While this one-stop convenience may sound enticing to the weary visa candidate, beware. Translation and evaluation are two very different services performed by people with very different qualifications. While translating one language to another requires a set of highly specialized skills and understanding of the nuances of language, the ability to translate one language to another does not qualify anyone to translate the value of education.

Education evaluation is a complex, specialized process. Evaluators typically hold graduate level degrees in international education, or have a significant amount of experience with international credentials by working in a university admissions environment or the like. Credential evaluators must have a firm grasp of not only education system structures internationally, but must also be knowledgeable about USCIS statutes, precedents, and decisions regarding educational qualifications. The evaluation process requires skill, judgment, and integrity to ensure an accurate and appropriate evaluation. In large firms, to ensure accuracy, junior evaluators are supervised by senior staff members.

Credential evaluation is too complex to be an a la carte service, but more and more translation agencies are offering it as such. There are shortcuts to writing a credential evaluation based on databases listing educational equivalencies, which can be purchased by anyone. Some translation firms are using these databases to write evaluations in a cookie-cutter fashion. However, the equivalencies in these databases only represent the most conservative evaluations for any given credential. These equivalencies are controversial and will not be applicable in every scenario. Furthermore, when this is the practice, an “evaluation” is misleading because the expertise involved in the evaluation did not actually come from the evaluator. The expertise came from whoever wrote the database, not from the firm that wrote the evaluation.

Without an extensive background in international education, there is no clear way to tell which situations are unique and which equivalencies are applicable to which degree. When credential evaluators write an evaluation, detailed analysis, expertise, and research is always needed to ensure accuracy and to truly address each client’s unique situation.

Beyond simply not having the expertise required to write accurate evaluations, much of the value of a client’s educational documents gets lost in translation – both of the words and of the academic content. Even without meaning to, translators often interject an evaluation through mistranslation. For example, a common mistranslation is Baccalaureate, which often gets translated into a Bachelor’s degree even though they are NOT the same. Just as words get mistranslated, degrees are also commonly mistranslated when a translator interjects a judgment on equivalency. A degree in one country does not directly translate to a degree in another country. Knowledge of the academic content, years required, and admissions decisions must all be taken into consideration when discerning the educational value of any given degree. This includes which colleges accept which foreign degrees to meet the requirements of their programs.

International education expert Dr. John Kersey explains, “In international education, the same term may mean entirely different things. Most bachelor’s degrees in Pakistan, for example, are only two years long and are comparable to a United States associate’s degree, not a bachelor’s degree which requires three to four years of study. The European Master degree typically represents four years of postsecondary education, and is thus comparable to a United States bachelor’s degree, rather than a master’s degree, which requires five to six years of postsecondary study.”

The words diploma and postgraduate diploma have no clear meanings. A postgraduate diploma does not mean that it is a graduate level education. Regardless, a postgraduate degree often gets mistranslated into a master’s degree. This, however, is not the result of a direct translation; this is the result of a value judgment from someone who does not understand the nuances of international education. While some postgraduate degrees are, in fact, equivalent to a master’s degree, none should be TRANSLATED as a master’s degree.

In a similar fashion, the Russian specialist degree often gets mistranslated. The kandidat naouk, which is generally the equivalent of a US doctorate cannot be TRANSLATED as a doctorate degree or a PhD. In the US, we know that a CPA is not a degree title. The title Certified Public Accountant is a professional title. The same is true for the CA (Chartered Accountants) in Canada. However, in India, the CA is actually equivalent to a degree in India, but this cannot be translated. It must be carefully evaluated based on academic content and legal precedents. Words must be translated, and credentials must be evaluated. These are two completely different processes and to combine them is both dangerous and misleading.

The solution to this is for the translator to always translate the literal words without making an educational value assessment. Leave that to a credential evaluation agency. To get an accurate evaluation that will not mislead employers and not leave visa candidates out of luck when the USCIS questions the credibility of their credential evaluator, keep this a two-step process. You would never hire a credential evaluation agency to translate documents. Do not hire a translation agency to discern academic equivalencies.

Bear in mind that not all credential evaluation agencies have evaluators qualified to assess equivalency with accuracy either. In fact, we are seeing more and more Requests For Evidence inquiring into the credibility of credential evaluation agencies. Not all credential evaluators have the expertise to write accurate evaluations, and not all agencies have the authority to make the necessary conversions to prove equivalence. When you and your client or employee are looking for the right agency to hire to write a credential evaluation, here are three things to keep in mind:

  1. When you talk with an agency, ask about the credentials, experience, and expertise of the person who will be writing the evaluation. If the agency will not discuss this with you, look elsewhere. A credential evaluator should at minimum hold a degree in higher education that includes significant study in international education systems, or have extensive experience working in university admissions. Working in admissions gives evaluators first hand knowledge and experience with how foreign degrees are valued in the eyes of the universities and graduate programs the evaluation will be written for.
  1. Higher cost does not directly translate into higher quality when it comes to credential evaluations. In fact, it’s the credible evaluation agencies that typically offer inexpensive services. If an agency requests a large payment up front before they are willing to discuss your case, look elsewhere. If they charge exorbitant prices, look elsewhere.
  1. Many evaluation agencies are members of professional bodies and trade associations. Evaluation agencies are not required to be members in organizations such as these, although many are. While membership may make an agency look more official and credible, do not base your decision on these associations. Membership does not make for a meaningful assessment of an agency’s product.
  1. Beware evaluation mills. Some evaluators will just rubber-stamp whatever equivalency is asked for. This is misleading for employers and will certainly land your client or employee an RFE come visa petition time. How can you avoid this? When you talk to a potential evaluation agency, ask about their evaluation policies. This will show you whether or not they are prepared to tailor their services to your client or employee’s individual situation.

Look for a credential evaluation agency that is forthcoming with the qualifications of their evaluators, and that will address your client or your employee’s unique situation.

About the Author

Sheila Danzig

Sheila Danzig is the Executive Director of CCI a Foreign Credentials Evaluation Agency. For a no charge analysis of any difficult case, RFEs, Denials, or NOIDs, please go to or call 800.771.4723. Mention that you saw this in the ILW article and get 72 hour rush service at no charge.


This article was written by Rebecca Little