Create Equitable Access to Licensing

Invest in Rural Communities


Create Equitable Access to Licensing

Rural business owners create employment opportunities and generate critical economic activity. New rural business owners today are likely to be immigrants, formerly incarcerated people, or others who may face obstacles as they apply for the licenses they need to run their business. Barriers to obtaining both business and driver’s licenses can limit the success of aspiring entrepreneurs.

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State lawmakers can address these challenges in several ways. They can create pathways for immigrants to get the resources and support needed to create, maintain, and grow their businesses, regardless of immigration status. Some states have begun to make occupational licenses and loans easier for formerly incarcerated individuals to obtain, but restrictions still vary widely. Some industries dominated by people of color still have excessive licensing or fee requirements; policymakers can seek to reduce these requirements.

Finally, in rural areas, the most important license for a new business owner to be assured of may be a reliable driver’s license, without which they cannot even get to their place of business. State policymakers can make driver’s licenses available to all state residents, regardless of citizenship or legal status.

Policy Priorities

  1. State: Ensure business and professional licenses and permits are accessible to people regardless of immigration status or former incarceration.

  2. State: Remove excessive requirements, training, and fees to obtain business licenses, particularly in industries with large numbers of women and people of color.

  3. State: Allow all state residents to apply for a driver’s license regardless of citizenship or legal status.

State Examples

  • Nevada (2019 NV AB 275) legislators enacted a bill that repealed citizenship requirements for all professional licenses and prohibits state licensing boards from denying an applicant based on their immigration status.

  • Colorado (2021 CO SB 199) lawmakers repealed a law that prohibited individuals from receiving a professional or commercial license without verification of lawful presence in the country. The bill also repealed a law that prohibited state agencies or political subdivisions from contracting with a contractor that knowingly employs or contracts undocumented persons.

  • Indiana (2018 IN HB 1245) legislation requires state and local licensing agencies and bodies to explicitly list the crimes that disqualify an individual from an occupational license and to show that these crimes directly relate to the responsibilities of the occupation itself. Before disqualifying an applicant, the licensing agency is also required to consider the nature and seriousness of the crime, how long ago it was committed, and evidence of rehabilitation or treatment of the applicant.

  • Missouri (2018 MO HB 1500) passed a bill to cut regulations for businesses offering ethnic hair braiding. Previously, hair braiders were required to complete hundreds of hours of training and pay high licensing fees that were disproportionate to the activity.

  • Michigan (2021 MI HB 4835 and HB 4836) is proposing to provide noncommercial driver’s licenses or state personal ID cards to individuals who are unable to provide documents verifying their identity and legal presence in the U.S. The bills would also prohibit discrimination against an individual who holds this type of license or ID.

  • New York’s Green Light Law (NY 2019 NY A03675, S0174) allows New Yorkers age 16 and older to apply for a standard noncommercial driver’s license regardless of their citizenship or lawful status in the U.S.