Military spouses could have an easier time transferring their professional licenses during future military moves under a newly enacted law.
Under the law, states must recognize service members and spouses' valid professional licenses from other states for any job except for law licenses if they moved because of military orders.
The provision was tucked into the Veterans Auto and Education Improvement Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law Thursday after Congress cleared the measure in the closing days of its session last month.
The bill largely revolves around ensuring veterans don't lose GI Bill benefits if schools have to close in a future emergency like they did for the COVID-19 pandemic, but also includes a grab bag of other policies related to veterans and military families.
Among the added provisions is the one that aims to remove hurdles to transferring professional licenses to a new location after a permanent change of station move, a process that can be time consuming and expensive and leave military spouses dejected or unemployed. The measure specifically excludes law licenses, a touchy topic between states as there are inconsistent rules on reciprocity for lawyers.
About 35% of active-duty spouses require state-issued licenses for their careers, according to the Defense Department's 2019 Survey of Active Duty Spouses, the most recent year available. While most respondents said it took them less than four months to get a new professional license after a PCS, about 20% said it took them 10 months or more, and a PCS within the last year more than doubled the chances that a spouse was unemployed.
A 2021 study by the Government Accountability Office based on data from the 2017 iteration of the survey estimated the unemployment rate for spouses in credentialed fields was about 25% compared to about 22% for those in non-credentialed fields.
"In the midst of one of the most challenging times for our military in terms of recruitment and retention, what this bill does is allow military spouses to cross-deck their professional licenses -- if they're a realtor, a nurse, a teacher, a beautician, a cosmetologist, whatever their profession is -- across state lines," Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., the sponsor of the original stand-alone legislation on which the provision is based, said in a statement last month. "This is a win for our military families, for our national security, for our local communities who are in desperate need of these professionals, and even for our government who now enjoys the tax revenue from these dual-income families."
The Pentagon has taken congressionally mandated steps in recent years to remove bureaucratic roadblocks to transferring licenses, helping to negotiate interstate compacts for specific job fields and reimbursing spouses up to $1,000 for relicensure. But it's ultimately up to states whether to enter into those compacts, and military spouses continue to face difficulties transferring their credentials.
Under the new law, states have to recognize professional licenses from other jurisdictions if a spouse or service member provides the new licensing authority a copy of their PCS orders. The service member or spouse also has to be in good standing with the authority that originally issued the license and has to have actively used the credential within the last two years.
If the state they're moving to already has an interstate compact that allows them to continue working in their field, that agreement takes precedence over the new law, according to the text of the bill.