By Grant Minix

The Council of State Governments Center of Innovation, in coordination with CSG South, developed a policy brief in June 2022 to explore the issues immigrants experience obtaining professional licensure and the opportunities for states to reduce barriers. The brief was completed at the request of a state legislator and supported by a Department of Labor-funded occupational licensing project.

Immigrants face issues in obtaining a professional license, including recognition of foreign credentials and training and navigating federal regulations regarding conditions for employment. These barriers often lead to immigrants being unemployed or underemployed. However, many states across the country are developing initiatives to assist immigrants by reducing these obstacles.

Easing the challenges faced by immigrants in obtaining professional licensure can help states address workforce shortages. For example, nearly 20% of all registered nurses and licensed practical nurses are immigrants. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, nursing shortages were profound in nearly every state. With such a significant immigrant population within the profession, fewer restrictions on immigrant licensing could lead to expanded workforces in nursing and other health care professions.

One of the primary ways state governments have worked to reduce barriers for immigrants is by developing policies in alignment with the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. States such as Arkansas, Illinois and New York have passed legislation which allows for DACA recipients to be able to obtain certain occupational licenses. These laws allow immigrants to obtain an occupational license for specific professions, but the exceptions created are available only for individuals with DACA status. However, DACA protections often fluctuate because of contention over legislation in Congress and legal disputes in the court system.

Colorado is responding to health care shortages by creating a state task force focused on improving the state’s health sector. The task force developed recommendations for legislation that strengthened the ability of international medical graduates to work in the state’s health care industry. The Nurse-Physician Advisory Task Force for Colorado made recommendations that ultimately led to House Bill 22-1050, which developed programs to help immigrants in the health care field navigate licensing challenges.

The brief also discusses another task force in Maryland, which has been focused on helping the skilled immigrant workforce. This task force brings together leaders from various large-scale employers and organizations focused on immigrant success to find innovative methods for integrating skilled immigrant labor into Maryland’s workforce. This task force has created a number of resources for career-seeking immigrants in their state, including a resource guide for skilled immigrants in Maryland.

Many local governments have taken action to integrate their skilled immigrant workforce through partnerships with national non-profit organizations. Organizations like New American Economy have worked with localities across the United States to create policies that can assist immigrants in finding opportunities that match their skills.

Ultimately, the immigrant licensing brief highlights many areas in which state governments can work to integrate skilled immigrant labor into their workforce. Being able to find innovative solutions in this area can drastically improve the ability of states to provide skilled workers in areas of need.

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