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

Professional boards require that an individual provide a Social Security Number (SSN) when applying for licensure or certification. Immigrants who are not yet citizens and do not have an SSN are denied licensure, regardless of their education 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’re facing a health care workforce crisis, and we need to address it,” Kagan, the vice chairman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, told State of Reform. “…[Immigrants] live in our neighborhoods. They go to our schools. We are supporting their training and yet by the time they are ready to start their careers, we are slamming the door in their faces. This doesn’t make sense. If grandma is in an assisted living home, or your child, God forbid, is in the hospital and needs care, you want someone who is compassionate, trained and dedicated to providing the best possible service and not you will indeed ask about their citizenship.

Other states have opened the door and allowed people to get a license. Maryland hasn’t done that yet, so we’re losing a competitive edge. We’re making this investment in these young people and then they’re leaving the states, starting their own family, paying taxes, buying property in other states. It seems silly and vital that we fix it.”

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

some other states have passed legislation to address barriers to immigrants obtaining professional licensure and certification. Minnesota founded Foreign Trained Physicians Task Force in 2014 to help integrate immigrant doctors into the state health delivery system. Both Nebraska and Indiana passed laws in the last few years they’ve been open license for certain professionssuch as nursing, for immigrants.

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

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

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

Kagan said she fully intends to sponsor the bill again in the 2023 session and may introduce it to ensure there are fewer bills and earlier hearings. Kagan said she will also work with colleagues in the House of Delegates, such as Health and Government Operations Chairwoman Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel) to move the bill through both chambers.

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