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Virginia Takes Promising Step Toward Full, Expedited Universal Licensing Recognition

February 27, 2023

Virginia has joined a growing movement of states using the Goldwater Institute’s universal licensing model to make it easier for skilled professionals to get to work. Recently, the legislature successfully advanced a reform model that takes a promising step toward the quick and efficient universal recognition of out-of-state occupational licenses, ensuring that more skilled professionals have a clearer pathway to licensure as they look to build their lives and careers in Virginia.

Virginia’s legislation has its origins in the Breaking Down Barriers to Work Act, a model reform designed by the Goldwater Institute and the Institute for Justice. This reform allows a licensed professional to apply for and be quickly granted a license to work based on the training or testing he or she has already completed out of state. Under this blueprint, an individual is eligible to apply for and quickly receive a license to work at a similar level so far as he or she has held a similar license for at least one year, pays all applicable fees, and does not have a disqualifying criminal history.

Why does universal recognition matter? Currently, one in four jobs in America requires an occupational license—a government permission slip to work. In many states, regulatory disparities mean out-of-state applicants are forced to spend extra time and money to complete additional testing or training just to be relicensed to do the same job they’ve already been doing. Under recognition, professionals are no longer required to put their careers on hold to repeat testing or complete additional training just to keep doing the same job,

In 2019, Arizona became the first state to enact universal recognition, and its Breaking Down Barriers to Work law is already a resounding success. To date, more than 6,500 professionals have been granted a license to work in Arizona under universal recognition, in fields ranging from medicine to cosmetology to engineering. 

Virginia’s reform provides an excellent step toward a more streamlined approach to licensure. It allows workers to use out-of-state training to qualify for a Virginia license to work so long as they have held their out-of-state license for at least three years in good standing. Numerous other states have successfully enacted versions of the reform that allow workers in myriad fields to benefit from recognition at the one-year mark, and Virginia’s workers would likewise benefit from the state’s lawmakers pursuing this approach in the future. This approach has been successful in multiple states because any difference in state-to-state licensing training hours is more than made up in the initial year of licensure.

Virginia’s reform also wisely creates a pathway to licensure for workers who may be coming from states where a similar license was not required in order to work in their field. While Virginia’s reform requires applicants under this pathway to complete any test a board deems necessary—a requirement which may result in additional costs in time and training for some workers—the recognition of work experience is an overall boon for workers. It reduces the risk that everyday Americans will be kept out of the workforce simply because their state chooses to regulate a license in a manner different from Virginia.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin praised the legislature’s action, highlighting the benefits of broader licensing reform:

In addition to Virginia, more than 20 states have enacted similar reforms to benefit workers and prioritize the right to earn a living over the ability of bureaucrats to create even more red tape. The Goldwater Institute applauds the work of the Virginia legislature in advancing this law, and thanks all the legislative champions who advocated on behalf of this important reform.

To learn more about how universal recognition can work in your state, click here.

Heather Curry is the Director of Strategic Engagement at the Goldwater Institute.



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