Occupational shortages across the country have spurred states to develop policies, laws, and partnerships to tap the talents of their residents, to the benefit of both native-born and foreign-trained professionals. Examples of some common state approaches that impact immigrants with work authorization include modifying licensing requirements and making licensing more transparent; addressing skills deficits and improving English language proficiency and creating task forces and offices to develop research and policy recommendations.
Modifying licensing requirements
States have passed legislation and created offices to modify the requirements for licensure. Their goal is to facilitate licensing of foreign-trained professions and/or improve accessibility of the licensing process through easily navigated channels.
In the past five years, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Illinois have provided that no applicant shall be denied a license solely based on immigration or citizenship status. Instead of requiring the applicant’s Social Security number, these states have allowed new candidates for licensure to provide Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers.
Other states have created more specific licensing modifications to focus on a particular demographic or occupation. For example, Arkansas has made occupational or professional licenses available to people with work authorization, including 5,000 people under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, commonly known as DACA. Alaska began allowing foreign-educated applicants for physical therapy to be eligible for licensure, provided they have met the minimum requirements for licensure in their field. Similarly, Virginia granted licensure to foreign-educated applicants for massage therapy.
Addressing skill gaps, costs, and English language proficiency
Federal, state, and private resources are available to assist foreign professionals in improving English proficiency and upgrading technical skills to meet state licensing requirements. These programs focus on vocational or workplace English language training, or advanced English as a second language (ESL), which is distinct from ESL for beginners or those with low literacy levels.
For example, California passed legislation requiring the massage therapy council to assess its contact with non-English speakers and make available all written and electronic materials to certificate holders and applicants in languages other than English. In order to help immigrants upgrade job-specific skills, Colorado has developed a clinical readiness program for international medical graduates that will cover skills and proficiencies needed for in-state residency programs.
Maine and Washington state have also established programs that provide work-based learning courses with financial assistance to improve language skills and work readiness. Maine enacted the Foreign Credentialing and Skills Recognition Revolving Loan Program to grant interest-free loans to foreign-educated or foreign-trained immigrants who need assistance while awaiting federal employment authorization. Washington appropriated more money to its workforce education investment account, which will specifically target refugees and immigrants who have arrived after July 21, 2021.
Task forces for skilled international applicants
Maryland’s Skilled Immigrant Task Force was created in 2018 and continues to gather community leaders from large-scale employers and organizations who are focused on immigrant success. The task force has created a detailed guide to various support services available to skilled immigrants in Maryland and across the United States.
Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich placed renewed value on immigrant success in 2018 with the signing of Executive Order 5 and the creation of the Office of Opportunities for New Americans. This office has helped new immigrants ascend the economic ladder, with a specific focus on occupational licensing, workforce training, and education.
Illinois created a task force (Illinois H 5465) in 2022 to investigate barriers to licensure for internationally licensed healthcare professionals in the state. The task force will report to the governor and General Assembly on strategies to reduce barriers to employment for this group of licensed professionals.