By expanding access to more immigrants with work authorization to hold professional licenses, we could lessen the skills gap, grow our economy, and benefit our communities in the process.
Labor shortages for critical occupations, including healthcare workers and K-12 teachers, have persisted and even worsened through the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time when Americans are relying on these essential workers more than ever. As the country recovers from the pandemic and communities begin to reopen, more will need to be done to recruit professionals into these fields that faced dire shortages even when the workforce was at full employment.
Congress could easily expand access to thousands of jobs for millions of trained workers, simply by revising outdated laws that forbid many immigrants with work authorization from holding professional licenses.
These outdated laws prevent talented, hardworking individuals from contributing their skills to our economy and our communities, particularly in essential industries that require special licensure. By expanding access to more immigrants with work authorization to hold professional licenses, we could lessen the skills gap, grow our economy, and benefit our communities in the process.
Take Rosa Ruvalcaba Serna, a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient born in Mexico who grew up in Arkansas, dreaming of becoming a nurse to treat sick children. Even though she grew up here, worked her way through college, and succeeded in medical school, her immigration status nearly barred Rosa from obtaining a nursing license.
That’s because of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996, which prohibits certain immigrants from earning professional or occupational licenses unless their state passes specific legislation allowing access. This includes immigrants on temporary visas and undocumented immigrants, even if they have permission to stay and work lawfully in the country under programs like DACA and TPS (Temporary Protected Status). Today, one in four workers holds a job that requires a license, but only 10 states have passed exemptions for immigrants, and these are mostly limited to specific groups of individuals or those with specific occupations.