N.J. scraps residency requirement for occupational licenses

Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law making it easier for immigrants in New Jersey to obtain professional licenses in a slew of careers regulated by the state. (screenshot)

Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law making it easier for immigrants in New Jersey to obtain professional licenses in a slew of careers regulated by the state. (screenshot)

Estrella Rivas has always wanted to be a doctor. But Rivas, who came to the United States from El Salvador when she was 5 years old, knew that her immigration status could prevent her from obtaining a professional license in her chosen field.

Rivas said the frustration at not being able to join the medical profession grew even stronger during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our hospitals were understaffed, our medical professionals overworked with shortages that predated the pandemic,” Rivas said. “While we were flying in medical staff from across the country and even across the globe, thousands of immigrants like me have been eager to serve but can’t because of out-of-date and unconstitutional laws that bar us from getting a license.”

That changed Tuesday, when Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law making it easier for immigrants in New Jersey to obtain professional licenses in a slew of careers regulated by the state.

The new law bars the state from using an applicant’s lawful presence in the U.S. as a requirement on an application for a professional or occupational license.

“Very simply, this eliminates a roadblock. There have been many that have been put up against our immigrant families and communities, against our Dreamers. This is yet another one that will be removed,” Murphy said.

Paul Rodriguez is acting director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the many licensing boards that certify doctors, nurses, accountants, social workers, cosmetologists, and a host of other professions.

“One of the essential roles of these boards is to protect the public by ensuring that applicants meet the education and training requirements necessary to safely provide services to our residents,” Rodriguez said. “Their immigration status should have no bearing on that determination.”

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