For years, we have struggled to find enough teachers, nurses, and other licensed professionals to fill jobs in Arkansas, and today I’d like to talk about Act 746, a law that will help overcome that challenge by enlarging the field of employees. I signed it into law this last week.

Senator Bart Hester, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said that Arkansas has worked hard to find solutions to the shortage of professionals while a solution that could fill thousands of jobs was right in front of us.

Rep. Clint Penzo co-sponsored the bill, which allows certification of a professional who is in Arkansas legally but isn’t a U.S. citizen.

The bill says that agencies that grant certificates or licenses for certain professions may certify or license a person who “fulfills the requirements to practice an occupation or profession in this state and … who holds [the] Federal Form … known popularly as a ‘work permit. …’”

Under this new law, as many as five-thousand residents of Arkansas who were born in another country can work, which immediately enlarges the potential workforce for dozens of occupations from teacher to nurse to veterinarian to architect to civil engineer.

Mireya Reith, founder of Arkansas United, has worked on this and similar legislation for a decade. During past legislative sessions, we passed a law that allowed the certification of teachers and nurses who weren’t U.S. citizens. But that left out those that need a license. Legislators from both parties supported the bills enthusiastically for all other professions. So this year, the General Assembly passed what became known as Act 746, which covered a multitude of professions and was a big victory for the young people who are talented and ready to build their future in our great state.

The certification bill, combined with bills that allow qualified noncitizens to apply for the Governor’s Scholarships and instate tuition, opens up many paths for noncitizens and helps fill critical gaps in certain industries.

The laws have made the future brighter for Javier Luna, a senior at Central High who was born in Mexico City but has lived in Arkansas since he was four. 

He had recently learned that under the current laws, he could not get his engineering license in Arkansas. When he learned about this possibility of the new law, he volunteered to support it in the General Assembly. He testified before two committees, and he joined us at the capitol when I signed it into law.

This is a special Arkansas moment. The General Assembly passed Act 746 across party lines with unanimous support. All of Arkansas benefits.

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