You Can Take It with You: A Case for Occupational Licensing Reciprocity

By Stephen Slivinski

Many workers must go through the often lengthy and costly process of getting a new occupational license when they move to a new state even if they have substantial work experience or a license in good standing from their prior state of residence. The ability to bring their license with them — license portability — doesn’t exist for most workers. This lack of license portability has real-world impacts.  

Not all reforms to allow portability of licenses are created equal, however. Arguments in favor of licensing portability need to be judged against the current forms of portability, not an idealized world in which licensing doesn’t exist or that assumes away competing reforms and the incentives of state occupational licensing boards which might favor the status quo. Licensing reform that can achieve portability while also grappling with these realities and safeguarding regulatory competition between states is crucial.

This study makes the case that a form of “universal reciprocity” is a better tool for license portability than an interstate compact or similar formal agreement. Unlike compacts, universal licensing reciprocity can: 

  1. be broad-based and cover a wide range of workers; and, 
  2. encourage competition between states in terms of the requirements to obtain a license — or even whether a state should mandate an occupational license at all. 

This study also will make the case that licensing portability is a reform that can pave the way for overall licensing reform to move forward. It also outlines a few administrative improvements that can be enacted at the state level, including an expedited application process for incoming license applicants, a pre-approval process before a move takes place, and transparency and accountability requirements for licensing boards.

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