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Department of State Increases Efforts to Help New Pennsylvanians Overcome Professional Licensing Barriers

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Press release

Harrisburg, PA – The Pennsylvania Department of State is enhancing efforts to help new Pennsylvanians, including immigrants, refugees, and asylees to overcome language, education, and other barriers to get a professional license needed for many jobs in the commonwealth. The Wolf Administration has prioritized occupational licensing reform that cuts red tape and reduces bureaucracy so hardworking people can use their skills and education to get a good job and support their families.

In 2019, Gov. Wolf signed a law making it easier for new Pennsylvanians, including military spouses, who have credentials in other states, territories, or countries with equivalent requirements and no disciplinary history to get an occupational license in the commonwealth.  

Gov. Wolf also signed a bipartisan bill in 2020 that builds on his criminal justice reforms. The law requires boards and commissions to no longer use a person’s criminal history to deny a professional license unless their criminal history is directly related to the occupation. Since then, the Department of State has worked with professional licensing boards to re-evaluate what crimes are considered at a licensure hearing, preventing denials due to unrelated offenses.

The department’s Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs (BPOA) also now provides translation support services and translated documents to help non-native English speakers navigate the license application process. Several professional exams are available in as many as five languages. The department added Simplified Chinese a few months ago.

The improvements are supported by the findings of the New Pennsylvanians Licensure Survey. The survey recommends increasing language access by making materials available in additional languages and further recognizing education and experience applicants have earned from other countries relative to their profession. Survey results showed that an applicant’s failure of an English language proficiency exam is among the most reported reasons for an application being denied. 

“These recommendations are something the Department of State can use to better understand what challenges newly arrived Pennsylvanians face when seeking to work here,” said Acting Secretary of State Leigh M. Chapman. “Our BPOA is better positioned to assist these individuals, who help our commonwealth’s economy continue to thrive.”

The survey report offers several other recommendations, including establishing an Office of New Pennsylvanians and asking the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services for a waiver of the Social Security number requirement on licensure applications.

A $422,000, three-year grant secured by Gov. Wolf from the U.S. Department of Labor in 2018 helped fund the survey. Pennsylvania ranks 12th in the nation in foreign-born residents, with more than 930,000 immigrants, refugees, and asylees who constitute more than 7 percent of the state’s population and 9 percent of its labor force.

For more information on professional licensing in Pennsylvania, visit the Pennsylvania Licensing System’s website.

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