By: Lía Fiol-Matta, Esq. and Ty Hyderally, Esq.
In a much-celebrated measure by workers’ and immigrants’ rights advocates, immigrants in New Jersey may now pursue professional licenses without having to worry about their immigration status. On September 1, 2020, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill into law allowing immigrants to obtain a professional or occupational license in New Jersey even if they are undocumented, so long as they meet all other educational and training requirements. Previously, an applicant was required to have “lawful presence in the United States” to qualify for a license, such as possessing a current and valid Permanent Resident Card, military identification card, U.S. Passport and other such types of identification. This new law (S2455) removes that obstacle. According to Gov. Murphy, the law will benefit approximately 500,000 undocumented residents in New Jersey. The state becomes the first on the East Coast to remove all immigration barriers to obtaining professional and occupational licenses. California, Nevada, and New Mexico are among other states with similar statutes.
Gov. Murphy, as well as the bill’s sponsors and advocates, emphasized that the new law will allow for more workers at hospitals and bring more people into the state’s workforce in general, which is critical during these times in which the medical and health professions are particularly strained with the coronavirus pandemic. In a virtual signing ceremony broadcast live on Facebook, Gov. Murphy stated that, “New Jersey is stronger when everyone is given the opportunity to contribute and everyone is given a chance to live their American Dream. This law sends a simple, powerful message that immigration status can no longer be used as an excuse to discriminate among equally educated, trained, and qualified individuals.”
Both houses of the Democratic-controlled New Jersey Legislature passed the Democratic-sponsored bill, largely along party lines, this summer. The state Senate passed it by a vote of 26-11, the state Assembly 47-26.
In New Jersey, professions and occupations that require licenses include electricians, accountants, architects, acupuncturists, audiologists, beauticians, court reporters, cosmetologists, doctors, dentists, engineers, home inspectors, morticians, nurses, nurse aides, occupational therapists, optometrists, pharmacists, plumbers, real estate appraisers, social workers and veterinarians, among many others. The Division of Consumer Affairs will oversee the implementation of the legislation, which became effective upon signing. According to the agency, there are 51 occupational and professional licensing boards that license collectively about 750,000 individuals across 175 professions in the state. The boards review educational and training requirements before approving licenses.
While the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act, Pub.L. 99–603, 100 Stat. 3445, (IRCA), prohibits employers from hiring someone living in the country without lawful work authorization, immigrants of any legal status are allowed to work as independent contractors or start a business using a Social Security number or Individual Tax Identification Number. Under the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Pub.L. 104–193 (PRWORA), states may grant an individual who is not lawfully present in the United States eligibility for certain State or local public benefits, including professional and commercial licensure, through the enactment of state law.
According to The Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan organization that provides data, information and analysis on immigration matters and migration policy, about 97,000 or 23 percent of New Jersey’s estimated 526,000 undocumented residents has a Bachelor’s, graduate or professional degree. By eliminating the “lawful presence” barrier to becoming licensed professionals, undocumented immigrant students and workers, particularly those essential workers who have been vital during the emergency of the coronavirus pandemic, will be able now to pursue the careers of their choice, increase their earning and fill in service areas where there are worker shortages. If you have questions on pursuing a professional license under the new law, you may contact our office.
This blog is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice, and may not reasonably be relied upon as such. If you face a legal issue, you should consult a qualified attorney for independent legal advice with regard to your particular set of facts. This blog may constitute attorney advertising. This blog is not intended to communicate with anyone in a state or other jurisdiction where such a blog may fail to comply with all laws and ethical rules of that state of jurisdiction.