N.J. considers allowing certain immigrants to obtain professional licenses

New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

People wanting to be anything from an accountant to an acupuncturist in New Jersey need to obtain professional licenses before they can ply their trade.

A proposal in the state Legislature would make certain immigrants living in the state eligible to apply for and obtain those licenses, which supporters said would invigorate the economy and bring some immigrants out of the shadows.

“One of the biggest problems that plague us is finding a workforce,” said John Indyk, vice president of the Health Care Association of New Jersey, which represents nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. “Many of [our employees] do come from foreign countries. They’re immigrants, particularly from the Philippines and the Dominican Republic.”

The legislation would allow immigrants who came to the United States as children, known as Dreamers, to obtain professional licenses. It would also open the process to immigrants with work authorizations.

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The proposal would not allow immigrants who do not have work authorizations or who lost them to obtain licenses, though immigration advocates are pushing lawmakers to include them, too.

Ana Calderon, who moved to the United States from Spain at age 11 and now studies pre-medicine at Rutgers University, said she has failed to land an internship at a hospital because the applications require a Social Security number.

“That’s how I came to realize that many of the medical occupational licenses in New Jersey require proof of U.S. citizenship,” she said.

The sponsors said that 10 other states have already opened up their professional licensing programs to some immigrants and that New Jersey already allows undocumented immigrants to get law licenses.

The Senate Commerce Committee passed the measure unanimously on Thursday.

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