Bill would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain professional licences

By: - March 28, 2019 5:03 am

Assemblywoman Selena Torres presents bill to the Committee on Commerce and Labor. (Photo: Michael Lyle)

From mammography technicians to court interpreters to peace officers, a number of careers in Nevada require people to get professional licenses issued by the state. Currently, licensing boards only consider applicants with social security numbers, something unavailable to many immigrants either because they are undocumented or because they are in the process of obtaining a social security card.

“The main thing that I want this committee to understand is that this bill does not give undocumented Nevadans the ability to work,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Selena Torres Wednesday. Torres introduced AB 275, which would authorize state licensing boards to accept a federal taxpayer identification number issued by the IRS as proof of identification for those who do not have a Social Security number.

“This bill gives Nevadans the ability to obtain an occupational license. All federal regulations and laws are still in place,” Torres said during a hearing on the bill.

Several states allow certain immigrants — such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, legal immigrants, and unauthorized immigrants — to apply for professional licenses, which often require Social Security numbers. Federal law, however, allows states to provide benefits, including occupational licensing, to a person who is a non-citizen through legislation.

Still, many of those states only open the door for specific professions. In Nevada, former Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a bill, AB 27 into law that allowed individuals who are not citizens or legal permanent residents to obtain a teaching license.

There is no easy way of measuring how many DACA recipients have taken advantage of the new policy, but since that bill took effect on May 13, 2015, The Nevada Department of Education has issued 169 licenses to non-U.S. citizens who held legal immigration and work status but did not have a Permanent Resident Card.

Most licenses—a total of 101—were issued to Special Education teachers, an area that is notoriously short on educators. Torres said the law signed by Sandoval expanding who can obtain a professional license has had a positive impact on the state.

“When we allowed for educators to have DACA we opened the doors for an entire subgroup of people to receive gainful employment and we improved the state of Nevada simultaneously,” Torres said. “We are going to see this continue to trickle down into many more professions and I think that’s a win for Nevada. It’s a win for this committee it’s a win for this Legislature as a whole.”

The bill was heard before the Committee on Commerce and Labor and had seven primary sponsors and 8 co-sponsors. 

Supporters of the bill included the Nevada Latin Chamber of Commerce, the Nevada Board of Social Work, the Nevada Hispanic Legislative Caucus, SEIU 1107, the UNLV Immigration Clinic and other immigrant rights groups and state business.

The bill would create economic growth, create more security for DACA and TPS recipients, and help fill labor shortages like those for special education teachers, argued supporters.

Erica Castro, an organizing manager with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and a DACA recipient, testified in support of the bill.

“I also want to add that as a DACA recipient myself and a current student at UNLV, AB275 would ensure that once I’m done with my education I can continue to work in my chosen field and do the work I’m currently doing.”

While no one testified against the bill one concern among state boards was the ability to perform background checks on applicants. The Department of Public Safety assured legislators that background checks could be made without a social security number using fingerprint forms that do not require an SSN.

Anticipating more push back, Peter Guzman, president of the Nevada Latin Chamber of Commerce said, “For anyone who is scared or nervous, it does not break any laws that are currently in place.”

“This is putting people to work getting them to be able to work, to earn more money and start spending more money in our community. We see no negatives in that,” Guzman said.

Torres assured legislatures the bill would not remove any requirements that are in place to qualify for a license, and anyone using a federal taxpayer identification would still need to follow all licensing board rules or risk fines and license revocation.

“Nevada workers must have an opportunity to seek gainful employment,” Torres said.

A fiscal note by the Department of Taxation said the legislation would require a system change and have a one-time financial impact in the amount of $29,714.29. No other cost was identified by state departments.

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Jeniffer Solis
Jeniffer Solis

Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies.