New law paves way for immigrants — regardless of status — to obtain professional licenses

In a move that puts New Jersey ahead of most of the country, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation that will prohibit immigration status from preventing an applicant from getting a professional license, provided all other requirements are met.

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Gurbir S. Grewal.

In other words, many more immigrants are now eligible for approximately 200 professional licenses — including those required for nursing, counseling, personal care and teaching. The Governor’s Office estimates the law will impact approximately 500,000 people.

“New Jersey is stronger when everyone is given the opportunity to contribute and everyone is given a chance to live their American Dream,” Murphy said in a statement. “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. As we look toward our shared economic future, we must ensure that no one is left behind and everyone who puts forward the effort can succeed.”

Under the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, 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.

Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal also applauded the law.

Carole Johnson.

“Today, New Jersey is removing barriers that prevented talented, hard-working individuals from realizing their full potential as vital members of the state’s workforce,” he said. “By welcoming all qualified individuals into our professional ranks, we not only benefit from their contributions to our economy, we are building and strengthening communities across our state.”

Department of Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson said the law will help strengthen the state in many ways — while acknowledging communities that have otherwise been overlooked.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear the critical role that New Jersey’s immigrant community plays in our essential frontline workforce,” she said. “It is past time for us to give these New Jerseyans the path to occupational and economic success this law will deliver. New Jersey has always been a welcoming state, and we will now be fortunate to benefit from the wide range of talents and expertise that all of our residents have to offer. The department’s Office of New Americans looks forward to supporting community education and outreach efforts to immigrant residents who can benefit from this new law.”

Raj Mukherji.

Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City), chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, said the law is a matter of fairness.

“New Jersey’s 53,000 DACA-eligible residents, including nearly 17,000 active DACA status holders, pay more than $100 million in state and local taxes annually,” he said. “They are risking their and their families’ lives every day as frontline health care workers and in other essential jobs during the pandemic.

“By eliminating barriers to occupational licenses, we will enable qualified, trained, highly skilled, and hard-working Dreamers to fill critical worker shortages in our state while contributing to the economy and being treated with dignity. New Jersey, whose waters are home to Ellis Island, is celebrated for its diversity and thriving immigrant population. If a DACA student — like several who testified before our committee — aspires to be a teacher, nurse or physician and takes the MCATs, is admitted to and graduates from medical school, and completes a residency, we would be fools to deprive our communities of their hard-earned skills and talents while facing an unprecedented public health crisis.”