Removing licensing barriers for immigrant health care workers will be a priority for Maryland lawmakers next session – State of Reform

Amid a severe workforce shortage, some Marylanders who want to become health care workers are facing a major hurdle in registering for their licenses.

Professional boards require an individual to provide a Social Security Number (SSN) when applying for a license or certification. Immigrants who are not yet citizens and do not have an SSN are disqualified from the permit, regardless of their educational or certification qualifications.

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The restriction is inconsistent with other state policies that provide non-citizen immigrants with in-state tuition and legislative scholarships for health education and training programs, according to Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-Montgomery County).

“The point is, we have a crisis in the health care workforce, and we have to address it,” Kagan, the vice chairman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, told State of Reform. “…[Immigrants] we live in our neighborhoods. They go to our schools. We support their education and yet until they are ready to start their careers, we close the door in their faces. This makes no sense. If grandma is in an assisted living home or your child, God forbid, is in a hospital and needs care, you want someone compassionate and trained and committed to providing the best possible service, and you’re not really going to ask about their citizenship.

Other states opened the door and allowed people to get a license. Maryland hasn’t done that yet, so we’re losing a competitive advantage. We make this investment in these young people and then they leave the states, raise their family, pay taxes, buy real estate in other states. It seems silly and it’s vital that we fix it.”

Maryland is facing a critical health care workforce shortage, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Research by the Maryland Hospital Association (MHA) indicates a statewide shortage of approximately 5,000 full-time registered nurses and 4,000 licensed practical nurses. Without intervention, Shortages could double or even triple by 2035, according to the MHA.

Enough other states have enacted legislation to address barriers to immigrants obtaining professional licensure and certification. Minnesota founded it Special Group of Foreign Trained Doctors in 2014 to help integrate immigrant doctors into the state health delivery system. Both Nebraska and Indiana have passed laws in the last few years they’ve been open licensing for certain occupationssuch as nursing, to immigrants.

Kagan sought to address the licensing hurdle in Maryland during the 2022 legislative session by sponsoring SB 523. The bill would prohibit health professions boards from denying licensure, certification or registration to an immigrant if they meet all educational, training or professional requirements. The bill passed the Democratic-led Senate, but the session adjourned before it passed the House.

Those opposed the bill argued that the policy would increase competition for health care jobs.

“The reality is that the jobs are vacant,” Kagan replied. “We don’t have people filling them. We need health workers. There is a consensus that non-US citizens who are trained and certified and otherwise fully eligible and ready to serve would do an excellent job and help meet our shortage. The other reality is that people from other countries can help provide care to patients for whom English is not their first language.”

Kagan said she fully intends to support the bill again in the 2023 session and may file it early to ensure a lower bill number and earlier hearings. Kagan said she will also work with her colleagues in the House of Representatives, such as Health and Government Affairs Speaker Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel) to pass the bill in both houses.

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