NYS Board of Regents To Remove Obstacles to Licenses for Non-Citizens

Friday, Feb 26, 2016

Board's decision includes DACA students and opens the door
for licensure for a range of professions

The New York State Board of Regents voted this week to begin a process to permit qualified non-citizens to obtain professional licenses. Advocates from CUNY Law, its Center on Latino/a Rights and Equality (CLORE), LatinoJusticePRLDEF, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), and the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) successfully worked to persuade the Board that recent developments in federal and New York State courts removed prior restrictions. 

The Board's vote will smooth the way for qualified applicants under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), temporary protected status (TPS), and similar immigration categories to get the professional licenses they have earned.
"The Board's proposal is an important first step to allowing those who have achieved qualifications the ability to make significant contributions to New York State by working in the professions for which they have been educated. The many students (called "Dreamers") attending CUNY and SUNY schools will now be able to maximize their potential and best use their education," said CUNY Law Professor Janet Calvo, who, with CUNY Law students, provided much of the legal analysis supporting the Board's rulemaking.

The proposed rule authorizes the issuance of professional licenses and certain teacher certifications by stating "no otherwise qualified alien shall be precluded ... if an individual is not unlawfully present in the United States, including but not limited to applicants granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals...."

The Board of Regents acknowledged that hundreds of thousands of non-citizen students, including DACA students, are educated in New York State public schools and receive New York high school diplomas. It clarified that under recent court decisions, a federal statute no longer restricts the Board from approving such licensure in New York State.

The Board based its decision, in significant part, on a recent court decision holding that Cesar Vargas, a CUNY Law graduate and DACA recipient, was eligible for a law license under New York State law. The Vargas decision was supported by an amicus brief submitted by the New York State Attorney General.

Jose Perez, deputy general counsel at LatinoJusticePRLDEF, who represented Mr. Vargas in attaining his law license and advocated to the Board, said: "This is an important development for equality, justice, and sound state policy toward non-citizens who seek to work and contribute to the support of their families and the success of New York State."

The Board of Regents, established under the NYS Constitution, authorizes licenses for 50 professions, including nurse, doctor, architect, occupational therapist, dental hygienist, engineer, audiologist, acupuncturist, land surveyor, speech-language pathologist, and veterinarian. 

Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, commended the Board for taking what he called an "important step". "It is very heartening to see policymakers respond to thoughtful and persuasive immigration advocacy based on positive legal developments." This development opens up opportunities for non-citizens who have spent years of training and enormous financial investments to become doctors, engineers, and more," he said. "They deserve to be able to practice their professions and to be supported by doing so. Furthermore, this is good for our State that is in great need of these very individuals to practice these critical professions in our workforce."

Annie Wang, staff attorney at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, praised the Board's action, noting that it "demonstrates the Board of Regents' commitment to inclusion and to sound, sensible policy affecting immigrants and their families in the pursuit of higher education and professional licensing in New York."

Natalie Gomez-Velez, CLORE director at CUNY Law and a former member of the New York State Board of Regents, said: "I am so proud of the Board for this development and of the role that CUNY School of Law has played in providing legal analysis to the Board to support this important rulemaking." 

The Regents' action may found here
A copy of this media release can be downloaded here
A panel discussion on recent developments will take place on Thursday, March 3, 5:30 pm at CUNY Law School. Details here.

UPDATE: AALDEF submitted comments on April 22, 2016 on the proposed NYS Education Department amendments about granting licenses to non-citizens. Read our letter here.

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For more information, contact:
Annie Wang, AALDEF Staff Attorney


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