Occupational Licensing

Universal Recognition: A State-Based Solution for Licensed Workers

Occupational licenses are a form of regulation that requires individuals who want to perform certain types of work to obtain permission from the government.[1]  Licensing requirements can vary greatly by state, with some states requiring stringent education and training requirements for a profession and other states requiring no license at all.

Obtaining a license to work in new states often requires reapplying for a license for profession an individual is already working in in another state. Many times, individuals have to pursue additional training, education and testing even if they already have a license or have years of experience. This extra time, energy and money imposes great financial and personal burdens on professionals and often deters them from conducting business in new states.

Universal recognition policies prevent this overly burdensome and duplicative licensing process by recognizing occupational licenses, work experience and/or private certifications previously obtained by the worker out-of-state. These policies can attract workers to a state, helping them get to work and contribute to the overall state economy.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted these occupational licensing barriers across state lines, particularly when additional healthcare workers were needed in states affected most by the virus. States like New York, for instance, issued temporary executive orders recognizing licenses for out-of-state healthcare workers to meet the increased demand for healthcare services.

While it is important for essential workers to be able to move and work across state lines during emergencies, the demand for workers from other states also exists outside of pandemics. Building on the success of these temporary measures, states can make these reforms permanent and let all workers from all professions more easily move and work across state lines.

At the ALEC Annual Meeting in 2019, the Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force passed a universal recognition policy called the Model Interstate-Mobility and Universal-Recognition Occupational Licensing Act.

The purpose of this act was to establish a process to recognize out-of-state licenses, private certifications and work experience completed in other states to help workers more freely move and work around the country. The model policy states that if you have held an occupational license for over a year or have three years of work experience (or two years of experience with a private certification) in a certain profession, states should recognize that training and experience and grant you a license.

Due to the complexity in licensing across the states, universal recognition policies have many components. Some of the most important aspects of a universal recognition policy include who it applies to, what occupations it recognizes, how the state determines if it will recognize another state’s license, residency requirements and a defined time period for when a board will notify an applicant of their final decision. Each of these aspects can truly make or break a policy’s effectiveness in achieving universal recognition for workers.

Below is a list of states that currently have universal recognition policies.

  • Iowa – 2020
  • Missouri – 2020
  • Idaho – 2020
  • Utah – 2020
  • Colorado – 2020
  • Arizona – 2019
  • Pennsylvania – 2019
  • Montana – 2019
  • New Jersey – 2018
  • Honorable Mention –- Mississippi – 2020 – Military Spouse Recognition

As mentioned above, the different aspects of a universal recognition policy carry a lot of weight in analyzing the law’s effectiveness.

Ideally, a universal recognition policy should apply to all workers and all occupations that require licensing in the state. Some narrow recognition policies only apply to military spouses, like Mississippi’s policy, while others have been introduced solely for healthcare workers amid COVID-19 pandemic, as mentioned above with New York. While these policies are steps in the right direction, all workers should be able to benefit from universal recognition.

Second, a policy should include “scope of practice” language over “substantially equivalent” to evaluate whether to recognize a person’s license from another state. “Substantially equivalent” language gives boards more discretion to deny a license based on its interpretation of education, training and other requirements of a license. “Scope of practice,” however, is a more direct comparison of whether a license is to perform the same day-to-day duties of the job itself. It tells the board to evaluate and compare the actual job duties of the worker, which is what matters most in evaluating the worker’s ability to perform that job in a new state. Iowa, Missouri, Idaho, Utah and Arizona all include a scope of practice standard in their universal recognition policies.

Third, a policy should not include a residency requirement for workers. If an individual lives Kansas City, KS, they should be able to utilize a recognition policy to get a license to work a couple miles down the road in Missouri without going through a complicated regulatory process. Workers should be able to practice their profession in their state of residence and in other states. Arizona is the only state with a residency requirement embedded into their policy.

Fourth, in addition to recognizing an occupational license from another state a universal recognition policy should recognize an individual’s work experience or private certifications they have obtained. Not all states license the same occupations or have the exact same requirements. Utilizing years of work experience or private certifications in addition to work experience gives a state another way to verify someone’s ability to perform a job.

Finally, it is important for a policy to include a defined time period for when a board will respond to an applicant. Government bureaucracy is notoriously slow-moving. If a person moves into another state, or wants to practice in a neighboring state, that person should not have to wait indefinitely to receive government approval to legally begin earning a living. ALEC model policy includes a 60-day maximum time period for a board to approve or disapprove an occupational license. Pennsylvania’s policy also includes a 60-day deadline.

For more information regarding universal recognition policy or to join our monthly occupational licensing reform working group, please email Michael Slabinski at mslabinski@alec.org or Carly Good at cgood@alec.org. The next Occupational Licensing Reform working group meets on Friday, October 16th at 2:00pm ET.

For members interested in labor policy more broadly, we host an Independent Contractor and Joint Employer working group that will meet once a month. Please email Michael or Carly if you are interested in joining either working group.

[1] https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/default/files/docs/licensing_report_final_nonembargo.pdf