NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Thursday, the Tennessee State Senate voted 20 to 7 to pass the Workforce Expansion Bill, sponsored by Sen. Shane Reeves, R-Tenn. with bipartisan support. The bill, once law, will allow certain immigrants to obtain licensure in their desired specialty or trade.
The vote to pass the bill follows the passage of its companion bill in the House (HB2309), sponsored by Bob Freeman, D-Tenn. in a 56 to 35 vote.
Over 7,000 DACA recipients and 3,000 Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders will benefit from this piece of legislation.
The bill has been drafted to address the ongoing labor shortages taking place in a wide variety of industries. Once law, it will mean anyone with a federally authorized work permit may access professional and occupational licenses, so long as they meet all other requirements of the licensing board.
“Today is life-changing for me, and not just me — I know we’re going to change a lot of lives and to me that’s really empowering," said Naomi Santos, a 16-year Tennessee resident and DACA recipient. "It’s also been great to see that Tennessee stands with immigrants. We’ve gone to school here, we’ve grown up here, this is our home. Now, so many people who have DACA and TPS — and are looking for a way to work in the fields that they love — will now be able to."
The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition Votes (TIRRC Votes) foundation is an organization dedicated to building power in immigrant and refugee communities and advocating for equitable and inclusive public policy. Santos is also a member.
"Now, we’ll be able to address the work shortages in our state. Today is a good day for immigrants; it’s a good day for Tennessee,” Santos said.
TIRRC Votes' Executive Director, Lisa Sherman Luna, emphasized the reasons the bill will positively impact the community from many angles.
"Immigrants with work permits can pursue their dreams and join the skilled workforce, employers will have a bigger and more diverse pool of workers, and we know that all our communities will benefit from this common sense legislation," Luna said of the bipartisan supported piece of legislation.
Now, all that the bill awaits is a signature from Governor Bill Lee.
"We urge Governor Lee to enthusiastically sign this bill into law, and bring some much needed relief to the sectors who have been slow to recover from the pandemic. For several years we have had community members approach us saying that the current, outdated law prevented them from accessing the required licensure to practice in their desired fields," said Luna.
"This piece of legislation not only recognizes that immigrants are essential to creating a thriving Tennessee, but it also transforms the licensure process from a barrier to a gateway of opportunity,” Luna said.