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Specialty licenses opening doors for immigrant workers in U.S.

immigration workforce
Posted at 2:03 PM, Jul 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-22 14:03:51-04

States are quietly opening the doors for more work opportunities for immigrants through specialty licenses.

Tennessee recently joined 15 other states in passing new legislation expanding access to some professional licenses for immigrants.

The rules vary state by state and based on immigration status for what professions people can apply for. In some states, it applies to specific professions like law, teaching or nursing. But more are expanding that to include other health care professions, real estate, plumbing, and more.

The specialty licenses give new career opportunities to people like Laura Lara, a DACA recipient, who has a degree in social work and now can apply for a license to practice.

“I did think about maybe moving to another state. But at the same time, it was hard because my family is here,” said Lara.

Eric Figueroa, with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says he expects to see more of this happening. During the pandemic, he says states realized there were a lot of people with different statuses with in-demand skills. And while immigration issues are usually divisive, expanding the workforce has largely had bipartisan support.

“You will be held to the same standard if you’re an immigrant applying for that same license and that goes across the board. I’ve seen no state change the requirements for the profession,” Figueroa pointed out.

More than two million college-educated immigrants and refugees are unemployed or underemployed, according to Upwardly Global. Nearly half of recently arrived immigrants have a bachelor’s degree.