New Jersey is expanding access to professional and occupational licenses.
During the onset of the pandemic, long before the ongoing global health crisis left companies with no choice but to let go of their workers, New Jersey found a way to safeguard professionals. Earlier this year, Governor Phil Murphy signed Senate Bill 3170, which amended the Millville Dallas Airmotive Plant Job Loss Notification Act (NJ WARN Act). The signing of the amendment made New Jersey the very first state to mandate employee severance payments in the event of a closure of operations or mass layoff of employees.
Now that the pandemic is spelling a myriad of social, political and economic challenges, the local government is taking a step further into making the Garden State’s economic landscape even more friendly for workers. In September, Murphy signed legislation (S2455), which expanded the access to professional or occupational licenses. In particular, the legislation prohibits lawful presence in the United States as a qualification to obtain a professional or occupational license — so long as the applicant meets all other requirements.
Anyone looking to start a practice or form an LLC in New Jersey to work in a specialized profession, whether they be accountants, architects, attorneys, electricians, engineers, inspectors, or medical professionals, must be licensed to comply with state laws. Previously, securing these licenses was impossible for undocumented immigrants. With the introduction of this new legislation, qualified individuals who are part of the 500,000 undocumented residents in New Jersey will now be eligible for professional and occupational licenses regardless of their immigration status.
In an article published by the official website of the Garden State, Murphy explained how the aim of this law is to send a simple and powerful message that “immigration status can no longer be used as an excuse to discriminate among equally educated, trained, and qualified individuals.” He further mentioned that as the state looks into a post-pandemic future, it is important that steps are taken to ensure that no one is left behind and that everyone who puts in some effort can succeed.
During the virtual signing ceremony that was broadcasted live on Facebook, Murphy also shared his hopes for the bill. In recognition of the strain and stress the pandemic has placed on the country’s medical and health professions, Murphy aspires that the law will be instrumental in filling labor shortages not just in healthcare but also in other fields as well.
Aside from removing the roadblock for many talented and hardworking immigrants and addressing labor shortage, the acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs Paul Rodriguez also noted that the bill has the potential to encourage immigrant students. The elimination of the residency requirements can serve as an indirect incentive for immigrant students to finish their education. After all, the law will ensure smoother integration into the professional world, which in turn, opens up opportunities for them to make fuller contributions to the state’s economy.
Of course, like any other legislation, this one is also met with a lot of accounts of displeasure. The prevailing argument of its critics is that the law will allow immigrants without legal status to compete for professional jobs that could have gone to legal residents and US citizens. Others even went as far as saying that the law is a way of circumventing federal laws, which prohibits employers from hiring people who are illegally residing in the country.
Still, despite this, New Jersey’s local government is steadfast with their belief that such a law will not only eliminate barriers for hardworking and talented individuals but also provide the state a foolproof way to boost and strengthen the state’s economy.