SC bill could allow DACA recipients, human trafficking victims to obtain occupational licenses

Updated: Apr. 30, 2021 at 11:29 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A South Carolina bill moving through the Senate would allow thousands of DACA recipients and human trafficking victims to obtain occupational licenses.

Right now, some lawfully present immigrants are not eligible for dozens of professions in the state that require licenses. That means students can study in the state of South Carolina but would not be allowed to take the exams required for the licenses.

As a result, many people end up leaving the state to pursue their careers in other places.

State Rep. Neal Collins (R-Pickney) has filed bill H3243 that would allow lawfully present immigrants with work authorization and victims of human trafficking obtain occupational licenses that fall under the SC Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation.

“We have been working on this bill for four, five years and the intent is to remove obstacles for occupational licensing for those who are lawfully present in our state,” Collins said.

The bill would open opportunities for students under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The program allows people who came to the U.S. as children receive temporary legal status and work authorization.

Kiara Alvarenga is originally from Honduras, but she came to the United States when she was eight years old. She has lived in South Carolina for most of her life until recently, when she moved to North Carolina for a job.

Her ultimate goal is to go to law school, something she still can’t do in either state.

“With the talents I have it’s like it doesn’t matter what kind of education, morals, or what kind of capabilities at all, at the end of the day you are going to be told no and it’s heart breaking to feel that way,” she said.

She believes this bill would help a lot of people that want to achieve certain professions, like nursing.

“There are so many people out there that are so talented and the only thing prohibiting them from contributing to South Carolina is that they can’t get professional licensing,” Alvarenga said. “I have gone to school with DACA recipients that have done biology degrees or nursing degrees in South Carolina, and then became nurses here in North Carolina.”

There are arguments that the bill could be taking away jobs from other people, but some legal experts say that is not the case.

Louise Pocock, an immigrant policy attorney with the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, says the bill would only expand the pool for those who can apply for professional licenses but still need all the qualifications.

" t doesn’t grant licenses automatically; people will still have to apply and show that they are qualified,” Pocock said. “There is no evidence that opening up licenses to other South Carolina residents with work authorization would take jobs away. What their is data showing is that there is a real need for licensed professionals in several industries.”

Pocock says the bill would help a lot of people who want to apply for licenses for more than 40 professions, but it needs to expand and open opportunities for other professions.

The bill is currently in a Senate committee.

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