State opens up occupational licensing to non-citizens

By: - June 14, 2019 6:10 am
Selena Torres

Assemblywoman Selena Torres at a legislative hearing in March. (Photo: Michael Lyle).

One of several bills Gov. Steve Sisolak signed into law this month allows any individual regardless of immigration or citizenship status to apply for a state occupational license.

From mammography technicians to court interpreters to dental hygienists, a number of careers in Nevada require people to get professional licenses issued by the state.

The bill, AB275, amends the Nevada Administrative Code by removing any reference to United States citizenship from state licensing requirements and allows applicants to use a taxpayer identification number as an alternative to a Social Security Number. It goes into effect on July 1, 2019.

“The Legislature hereby finds and declares that: It is in the best interests of this State to make full use of the skills and talents of every resident of this State,” reads the bill.

With almost unanimous support, the bill passed the state Senate after only two Republicans Ira Hansen and James Settlemeyervoted against it. The Assembly vote was more along party lines, passing 29-11 with only one Republican, Jill Tolles, joining all the Democrats to support it.

Still, before the bill made it past the Senate, Las Vegas Democratic Assemblywoman Selena Torres, who authored the bill, added an amendment clarifying that none of the bill’s provisions violate federal law.

“Once we added that in I think it really gave conservatives a little more understanding of the legislation and its implications,” Torres said. “It was just a matter of reiterating that this piece of legislation completely coincides with the federal statutes that already exist. Once we did that it gave us the clarification necessary to rally bipartisan support.”

Torres reiterated that AB 267 is not a work authorization permit, meaning it does not give undocumented Nevadans authorization to work in the United States. Instead, she argued the bill would open up more career opportunities for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients as well as immigrants who are under a permanent or temporary status but may not have a Social Security number yet, including immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), green card holders, asylum seekers, and refugees.

“A professional and occupational license demonstrates competency. It does not demonstrate eligibility to work,” Torres said.

Torres said she worked closely with the Nevada Immigration Coalition, the UNLV Immigration Clinic, and the Governor’s Office to create the bill and anticipates it will complement the mission of the Governor’s Office for New Americans. That office was created at Sisolak’s request during the Legislature as a center to help new immigrants navigate government as they seek economic opportunities.

“AB275 is a pivotal win for us because it removes arbitrary barriers that have prevented immigrants, including DACA recipients and TPS folks, from pursuing a career in their chosen field or the ability to practice it,” said Erica Castro, lead of the Nevada Immigrant Coalition. “This bill a step towards building equitable opportunities that are truly inclusive of all Nevadans regardless of immigration status.”

Practices in other states vary, but several allow certain immigrants — such as DACA recipients, legal immigrants, and in some instances 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.

But many of those states only open the door for specific professions. In Nevada, former Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a bill, AB 276, into law that only allowed individuals who are not citizens or legal permanent residents to obtain a teaching license.

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.

The point of this year’s legislation is to expands licensing to more and more professions, by prohibiting licensing boards from denying an occupational or professional license based solely on an applicant’s immigration status, Torres said.

“Quite honestly I think it’s the most expansive professional occupational licensing measure to be taken by any state that’s going to positively impact immigrant communities,” Torres said. “In the 2017 session legislation allowed DACA recipients to apply to be teachers but this opens it up even more.”

The bill was supported by the Nevada Immigrant Coalition, which advocates for immigrants, refugees, New Americans, and their families and is led by steering committee representatives from Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, UNLV Law, Culinary Workers Union Local 226, Mi Familia Vota, and Make the Road Nevada.

“It takes a lot of coordination, especially for a bill like this,” said Lalo Montoya, the political director for Make the Road Nevada. “It wouldn’t have been possible without the coalition.”

“The state legislature knows these sort of laws are needed because we’re working under a broken immigration system. This gives everyone an opportunity to contribute economically.”

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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.