Management & Labor

Is it Time to Change Professional Licensing Rules for Immigrants?

May 12, 2014

Denisse Rojas earned a biology degree from UC Berkeley and has set her sights on medical school. But one big obstacle stands in her way.

To practice medicine in California, doctors must obtain a license from the state, and applicants are required to provide a Social Security number as proof of identity.

Rojas, 25, does not have such a number. She is in the United States illegally, having been smuggled into the country from Mexico by her parents when she was 6 months old.

But a group of legislators wants to help her — to do for doctors, dentists, nurses, barbers, security guards and many others what they did last year for attorneys: grant those in the country illegally permission to practice their occupations.

The San Francisco resident said she was able to receive financial aid from the state under California's Dream Act for her last semester of college, so it follows that the state should allow her to use her degree.

"We believe that by removing the barrier that we face in obtaining professional licensing, we will be able to reach our full potential," Rojas told lawmakers at a recent legislative hearing.

California leads the nation in efforts to integrate immigrants living here illegally into mainstream society, providing them with driver's licenses, college scholarships and protection from deportation for minor crimes. The new legislation could go much further in affecting the lives of those in the shadows, supporters say, because it targets work and would afford them upward mobility. The state's workforce includes 1.85 million people in the country illegally, according to an estimate by the Public Policy Institute of California.

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