A bill that’s been introduced in the South Carolina general assembly would allow immigrants who have valid employment authorization to obtain occupational and professional licenses.
The bill was introduced by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the South Carolina legislature. It states: “A person who has a current and valid employment authorization approved by federal immigration authorities shall be eligible for occupational or professional licensure under the provisions of this title provided all other applicable requirements are met.”
The proposed legislation was co-sponsored by 25 lawmakers including Republican state Reps. Neal Collins, Bill Herbkersman, Micah Caskey IV, Jason Elliott, Cal Forrest Jr., Jerry Carter, and R. Raye Felder.
The state lawmakers proposed the legislation just days after President Joe Biden announced a parole program that would allow up to 30,000 people from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti into the United States every month and receive authorization to work for up to two years at a time.
In addition to Biden’s parole program, illegal immigrants are able to obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) in the United States through the asylum process after 180 days. This time includes 150 days after filing an asylum application plus a pending period of at least another 30 days.
The waiting period was increased to 365 days during Donald Trump’s presidency, but the Biden administration reduced it back to 180 days. The existing backlog of asylum applications means pending applicants may be living and working in the United States for years before their asylum claim is either approved or rejected. The asylum backlog has grown to historic levels under the Biden administration.
In a June 2022 article for The Federalist, editor John Daniel Davidson wrote that because illegal immigrants with pending asylum cases can get work permits in the United States, the existing backlog means that they can work and establish themselves in the United States for several years, even if their asylum claim stands no chance of approval once it’s adjudicated.
“Even if they have no chance in court, they can work in the United States in the meantime and send money to their families back home,” Davidson wrote. “For many migrants, that’s the ultimate purpose of crossing the border in the first place.”
FWD.us, a pro-immigration lobbying organization founded and funded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, has been a proponent of occupational and professional licensure for non-citizens. The organization has called for such licensure for participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, as well as those in the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program.
Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in 1996, prohibiting certain immigrants from getting professional or occupational licenses unless their states passed legislation that specifically allowed for it.
“PRWORA has not only restricted immigrants’ potential, but has limited their ability to support themselves and their families. Many immigrants, particularly DACA recipients, live in mixed status families and are responsible for supporting their families financially, including the more than 300,000 U.S. citizen children they are parents to,” Fwd.us said on its website.
“Barring immigrants with valid work authorizations from certain jobs sacrifices the investments our country has made in their education and development and wastes the potential skills they could contribute,” FWD.us argued.
While Republicans have generally been more opposed to loosening immigration restrictions, some Republican states have approved laws that allow licensure for non-citizens.
In 2019, then-Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the Republican-controlled state legislature passed legislation (pdf) that would allow DACA participants to obtain nursing licenses.
In addition to Arkansas, at least nine other states have extended at least some professional licenses to illegal immigrants:
- California allows professional licenses to anyone who completes necessary training and licensing practices.
- Nebraska allows anyone with an EAD to apply for licenses in the state.
- Illinois law simply prohibits state licensing officials from denying a license to anyone based on their immigration status.
- Nevada also changed its laws to prohibit licensing officials to deny licenses based on a person’s immigration status.
- Florida allows professional licenses for immigrants so long as they arrived in the United States as a minor, have a social security number, and have been in the United States for at least 10 years.
- Mississippi allows people with work authorizations in the United States to become licensed professional counselors.
- New York allows DACA recipients to obtain teaching certifications and 50 other professional licenses.
- South Dakota allows for any individual who is foreign-trained or a graduate of a unaccredited dental program to practice dentistry in the state.
- Utah allows occupational therapist licenses to applicants who pass the state licensing exam, and who are licensed in a foreign country where the education, experience, or exam requirements are similar to Utah’s requirements.
Opponents of making work opportunities more accessible to illegal immigrants may be wary of incentivizing frivolous asylum claims.
As Davidson argued in his June article for The Federalist, illegal immigrants may be taking advantage of the U.S. asylum program knowing they won’t gain permanent residence but that they can work in the United States until their asylum claim is ultimately rejected.
“What most migrants [South of the U.S. border] believe is in fact the truth, more or less: if you can get across the Rio Grande, you will probably be allowed to stay. Under what conditions and for how long is not as important to them as crossing the border and getting released from U.S. custody, preferably with permission to work,” Davidson wrote.
Davidson argued that because most illegal immigrants can expect to find work once they cross the border, they are more willing to take on debt from loan sharks and pay cartels and human smugglers to help them enter the United States.
Last May, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) called on Republican states in particular to discourage illegal immigration by prohibiting access to professional licenses, among other suggestions.
“Given the Biden administration’s obvious unwillingness to control illegal immigration, why not take steps to discourage illegal aliens from staying in your state?” CIS author David North wrote in “An open memorandum to GOP legislators.”