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Gov. Phil Murphy has signed a measure into law that allows unauthorized immigrants in New Jersey to get a professional or occupational license, provided they meet all the necessary requirements for licensure.

Up until now, lawful presence in the United States was required to work as a teacher, nurse, doctor, therapist, HVAC technician or hairdresser, for example. But during a virtual Facebook news conference, Murphy signed legislation to change that requirement, potentially impacting an estimated 500,000 immigrants who reside in the Garden State but are not authorized to be here.

Murphy said that as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, this new law is important. Murphy said this will give many who are trained as nurses and doctors a chance to live the American Dream.

“The strain and stress on our medical and health professions made its timing and it’s urgency even more so,” he said.

Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson, said the new law will boost the state economy “by adding millions in tax revenue from the increased wages by fully putting our trained immigrant professionals to work.”

He said this will also allow immigrants to fill critical labor shortages in the Garden State.

“We’re not taking away American jobs,” he said. “Because Dreamers who have grown up here, maybe for decades, who have been educated and trained here, they are American.”

He said that by lifting the restrictions, “we’re just taking qualified and trained and highly skilled and hard working Dreamers, and allowing them to be treated with dignity while they’re contributing to our state’s economy.”

Erika Martinez, a youth organizer for the immigrant rights group Make the Road New Jersey, said everyone will benefit from the new law.

“Undocumented immigrants will now be able to pursue our professions, support our families, fulfill our dreams and support the Garden State,” she said.

Martinez said immigrant communities have faced barriers in obtaining occupational licenses despite completing educational and training requirements.

“We will continue to fight while we pursue our dreams of becoming physicians, nurses, physical therapists, teachers, manicurists and more here in New Jersey, she said.

According to the Governor’s Office, the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 gives states “the ability to grant an individual who is not lawfully present in the United States eligibility for certain State or local public benefits, including professional and commercial licensure, through the enactment of state law.”

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