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Undocumented Washingtonians can now work as doctors, teachers under new professional licensing law

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Starting Monday, undocumented people in Washington can apply for professional state licenses and certifications, such as those held by doctors, teachers, and engineers. That’s because of a bill passed earlier this year.

“Immigration status is really a federal matter,” said State House Rep. Amy Walen (D-Kirkland), who sponsored the bill. “It's not relevant to whether you can do a job that you need a license for in the state of Washington. So why would we put that up as a barrier to work?”

The new law opens the door to dozens of new career options for undocumented people. But some state agencies have already been issuing professional licenses to that demographic.

Last year, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industry began allowing people to apply for contractor licenses using Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, federal tax processing numbers commonly used by people who don’t have federal work authorization or Social Security numbers. The State Department of Health said in an email that the agency already doesn’t collect immigration or citizenship status from applicants.

The new law formalizes this practice, Walen said.

“A bill clarifies what our values are around this: that all the members of our communities are welcome to participate in the economy and to bring their skills,” she said.

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At the national level, the Biden Administration announced last month that people protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which shields undocumented people who came to the U.S. as children from deportation, could receive work visas more quickly if they have a college degree and related job offer.

Walen said the new state law applies to all undocumented people, regardless of their federal immigration status.

"[People] may have visas to work, but may think that they cannot work here because [they think] their certification at home doesn't apply,” she said. “This bill just says your certification at home does apply if you can just pass the tests in the state of Washington.”

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