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Providing Non-Citizens a Path to Professional Licenses in NY, CA

The Trump administration’s efforts to reshape immigration policies create an uncertain environment for those who lack citizenship. But two states with large immigrant populations, California and New York, have made it easier for non-citizens to obtain licenses in certain professions.

CUNY School of Law Professor Janet M. Calvo discussed the legal issues in creating these pathways for non-citizens in an article published in The Columbia Journal of Race and Law. California’s and New York’s approaches offer insights for other states and organizations, Calvo said.

Calvo noted that it’s in states’ “socio-economic interests” to create professional opportunities for immigrants, especially if they’ve taken advantage of state-subsidized education. As professionals, they’ll contribute to the economy and bring diversity and language skills to their fields. 

But both New York and California had to “confront” a federal statute that limited state authority in determining eligibility of non-citizens for professional licensing. California complied with the federal statute by passing a state law that removed “all citizenship or immigration status requirements” for occupations requiring licenses from its Department of Consumer Affairs, which allowed the DCA to focus on applicants’ expertise and competency rather than enforce federal policy. The DCA issues licenses in over 250 categories, including nursing, social work, dentistry, physical therapy, architecture, accounting, and real estate.

New York dealt with the federal statute by asserting its authority to regulate occupational licensing as “a traditional state function,” part of “a state’s control over the health, safety, and welfare of its residents.” New York’s changes were made administratively through the state Board of Regents and Department of Education. The state’s new regulations expanded categories of non-citizens who may seek teacher certification or licenses in 50 professions, including physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, veterinarians, social workers, architects, engineers, and accountants.

New York’s new rules also addressed possible equal protection violations in its original regulations, which licensed only some categories of non-citizens. The new rules expand eligibility to all non-citizens permanently residing in the state under “color of law.” The term refers to immigrants known to federal authorities but not targeted for deportation, including those who’ve sought deportation protection under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

In a separate article, Calvo argues that DACAs “should remain eligible for both professional licensing and Medicaid in New York … whether or not DACA is ultimately rescinded.” That piece was published in the City University of New York Law Review. Calvo argues that “state governments have control” over regulations affecting residents’ “health, welfare and safety” regardless of immigration status.

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Explore This Work
“Professional Licensing and Teacher Certification for Non-Citizens” (The Columbia Journal of Race and Law)
“Protecting the Rights of DACA Recipients” (City University of New York Law Review)

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Janet Calvo (Professor, Law) | Profile 1

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