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New Eligibility for Professional Licensure Regarding Undocumented Workers in New Jersey

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A new law will remove barriers to obtain a professional license in the state of New Jersey. On September 1, Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation S2455, which allows undocumented New Jersey resident applicants to obtain a professional license if they meet all necessary requirements of the licensure. The law also prohibits lawful presence in the United States as a qualification for obtaining a professional license.

When signing the legislation into law, Governor Murphy stated that New Jersey is stronger when everyone is given the opportunity to contribute and a chance to live the American Dream. He added that this law sends a powerful message that immigration status can no longer be used as an excuse to discriminate among equally educated, trained, and qualified individuals.

Source of Federal Authorization for State Law

Under the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996, states are allowed to grant an individual who is not lawfully residing in the United States eligibility for certain public benefits, including professional licensure through enactment of state legislation. Based on this federal rule, New Jersey has authority to allow such eligibility for professional licensure of undocumented workers in the state.

The New Jersey Attorney General stated that New Jersey is removing barriers that prevented talented, hardworking individuals from realizing their full potential as vital members of the state’s workforce. He continued by further stating that qualified individuals lend contributions to the economy and strengthen communities across the state. New Jersey is the first state on the east coast to enact such a law and will join California, Nevada, and New Mexico, who also passed legislation allowing such licensing. This law will impact approximately 500,000 immigrants without legal status in New Jersey who will now be eligible to receive professional licenses and pursue careers in their chosen fields.

Legislation Affects 175 Professions

This law is effective immediately and implementation will be overseen by the Director of Division of Consumer Affairs. He stated that eliminating the current residency requirement will allow prospective licensees who fulfill all other prerequisites to practice in their chosen profession. There are 51 occupational and professional licensing boards in the state that collectively license approximately 750,000 individuals across 175 professions. Many occupations in New Jersey require licenses, including but not limited to:

  • Accountants
  • Architects
  • Civil engineers
  • Electricians
  • Optometrists
  • Psychiatrists
  • Pharmacists
  • Real estate agents
  • Court reporters
  • Lawyers

Undocumented Workers Must Meet All Other Requirements

Qualifications for licensure vary by professional. The different boards consider education, work experience, and training requirements before awarding licenses. Prior to the law, they also considered the immigration status of the applicant. However, through this new law, requirements of documentation are prohibited. Undocumented immigrant workers must meet all other requirements set by the licensing board to obtain licensure.

Advocates for the New Law

The legislation was motivated in part by the Coronavirus pandemic, which has increased pressure on the medical profession to provide care for the surge in cases. The elimination of residency and immigration status is designed to provide an incentive to undocumented residents to pursue careers in these fields to make meaningful contributions to their communities. Approximately 526,000 New Jersey residents who were previously unable to seek employment due to the inability to obtain a professional license can finally obtain employment in their field. Approximately 97,000 undocumented residents in New Jersey have bachelors, graduate, or doctorate degrees.

Advocates of the law argue that allowing licensure will help fill critical shortages in various sectors of the economy, while also increasing stability in their communities by affording opportunities to those who are qualified to make meaningful contributions to their societies.

Opposition to The Law

Critics of the law argue that passage of this legislation serves to undermine immigration laws and will encourage further violations. They also argue that this law will increase competition for professional jobs that would otherwise be reserved for U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents in an economy that has high unemployment rates due to the pandemic. Detractors point to the fact that there currently are 1.3 million people unemployed in New Jersey. They criticize the legislature for not focusing on assisting unemployed citizens and permanent residents by increasing their access to employment in the critical fields facing shortages. They also view the law as circumventing other federal laws that prohibit employers from hiring workers without appropriate documentation.

Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. Help Clients Obtain Proper Work Authorizations

If you are seeking professional licensure in your chosen field of study and are doubtful of whether you qualify due to your immigration status, the Philadelphia immigration lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. can help. We will explain how the law applies to your unique circumstance. In a rapidly changing legal environment, our attorneys provide comprehensive legal representation with sensitivity and understanding in all types of legal matters, including assistance with work authorizations. For an initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 215-925-4435. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and nationwide.

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