If you have a work permit under DACA, are you also eligible to get a professional license to work? Answer: It depends on the state. Over the last few years, the issue as to whether undocumented individuals may get a professional license or credentials in certain occupational fields, such as teaching, law, and healthcare, has been disputed in different states.
A grant of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, authorizes certain individuals who are undocumented to remain in the U.S. for a limited amount of time, obtain a work permit, and apply for a social security number.
Depending on the state, even if you have the requisite degree, pass the necessary exams, and have work authorization through policies like DACA, the issue of professional licensing may stop you from pursing your career as a licensed professional. This is because each state may decide what and how to restrict licensing within their state. This approach has led to inconsistencies in the benefits and opportunities that undocumented individuals may obtain.
What do states control?
While states cannot alter the DACA policy itself, they may control what state benefits are to be made available to the undocumented individuals within their state. Over the last several years, certain states have gained a reputation for adopting policies that are either more favorable, or more harmful, to the undocumented population.
Friendly California! – Driver License, In-State Tuition, Law Practice
Fortunately, California is on the friendlier side of offering state benefits. Whether it be housing, tuition, licensing, or eligibility for certain public assistance, California offers some of the best benefits in the country to undocumented individuals who qualify.
Undocumented individuals in California, including DACA recipients, are eligible to get a driver license under AB 60. Other legislation allows for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities (AB 540, AB 2000, Education Code 68130.5, California Dream Act).
Undocumented immigrants may be allowed by the California State Bar to practice law, if they pass the bar exam and meet all other eligibility requirements. (California Business and Professions Code § 6064(b)).
Professional Licensing Eligibility: California Senate Bill SB 1159
As of January 1, 2016, undocumented Californians are eligible to receive licenses from the 43 California Boards and Bureaus under the California Department of Consumer Affairs. SB 1159 requires the licensing boards to consider applicants for licensing regardless of their immigration status. This legislation allows the Department to accept an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) instead of a social security number from applicants of an initial or renewal professional license. It also prohibits the denial of licensing based on citizenship or immigration status. (See Senate Floor Analysis 8/29/14.) This opens up many unprecedented career opportunities for undocumented Californians in fields such as health, contracting, engineering, real estate, and many more!
What’s going on in other states?
Other states have also been debating the issue of licensing. In February, the New York State Education Department’s Board of Regents approved a plan allowing DACA recipients to apply for professional licenses and teaching certification. Furthermore, the highest court in New York has ruled in Matter of Vargas, that an undocumented immigrant may be admitted to the New York State Bar to practice law. Ruling in favor of applicant Cesar Vargas, the Court stated, “the absence of lawful immigration status does not, per se, adversely reflect on the character and fitness of a person for admission to the practice of law.” The Court cited California as an example that allows otherwise qualified applicants without lawful status to be admitted to practice law. While other states are making progress in expanding the benefits offered to those with unlawful status, California is leading the way.
Additional Resources: Higher Education in California for Undocumented Immigrants