Will SB35 help the Utah labor shortage?
Photo courtesy of the Utah Department of Commerce
Thanks to the Utah Department of Commerce’s new foreign credentialing process, immigrants who were licensed in professional industries like medicine and psychotherapy are now able to transfer their certifications and licensure to begin practicing in Utah.
SB35, which went into effect in May, “welcomes new interest and enthusiasm from the community regarding recent changes in Utah’s professional licensing laws for people educated or trained in a foreign country,” according to the Utah Division of Professional Licensing (DOPL). Specifically, SB35 allows Utahns with foreign training to get a new state-approved license in the industries of education, agriculture, health, human services, transportation and environmental quality.
“Insofar as where they came from lines up with our process, we should allow [immigrants] to practice,” Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson says.
The number of immigrants in Utah increased by 100,700 people between 2000 and 2019, accounting for 11.6 percent of the state’s population growth during the same period, according to a report by the American Immigration Council. The 2020 Census identified Utah as the fastest-growing state in the country.
With this unprecedented influx of immigrants and refugees, SB35 will help migrants integrate into Utah by helping them continue to work the jobs they had already trained for.
“The Department of Commerce has been receiving more requests from refugees,” says Mark Steinagel, director of the DOPL. “Other agencies that support refugees have been seeking guidance from the DOPL on how to direct refugees who declare a profession but do not have the qualifications for a license. We got 1,000+ calls, some just from the excitement that the state was open to accepting foreign credentials. We can’t afford to not get all hands on deck.”
Paola Cepeda, one of the first licensees to go through the foreign credentialing process. | Photo courtesy of the Utah Department of Commerce
The DOPL will prioritize a different group of professions to review each year. Mental health and other health-related professions are the focus of 2023, as the nation has experienced a significant labor shortage in these industries in recent years. In 2018, there were 27 open healthcare practitioner jobs for every available, unemployed healthcare practitioner across the country, reported research from New American Economy. The pandemic only exacerbated this problem.
Room to grow
Steinagel says there may even be potential to expand SB35 with other states. “The Council on Licensure Enforcement, Administration and Regulation is hosting its annual meeting in Salt Lake City this September, and the Department of Commerce has submitted a course sharing Utah’s evolving experience with helping foreign applicants obtain professional licensure,” he continues.
While the opportunities are many, some professionals—like dentists, for example—will still have to wait before they are allowed to practice in Utah.
“Technically, [SB35] does [apply to dentists], but there is a provision within the same section of the law that acknowledges existing pathways for foreign credentialed individuals,” Steinagel says. “Those pathways may or may not be working well, so we plan to recommend changes to the legislature while finding pathways already allowed.”
Despite this, SB35 will provide much-needed, win-win opportunities for Utah and the more than 250,000 immigrants that call the state home.
“We’ve got people who come to Utah who are highly trained. We should allow them to practice,” Henderson says. “They shouldn’t have to start from scratch.”