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Georgia Secretary of State’s Office Not Equipped to Handle New Law Requiring Proof of Legal Residency to Obtain a Professional License

A Georgia law passed earlier this year requiring all applicants to prove legal residency in order to obtain a professional license has created a major backlog for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, and is delaying the issuance of the licenses to Georgia residents who have done everything correctly.

The professional licensing renewal process that covers over 200 professions (e.g., nurses, hair stylists, plumbers, pharmacists, etc.) and over 475,000 workers used to just take just a few days, but now because of this new proof of legal residency requirement the waiting period can take up to several weeks. And for new applicants the amount of time could stretch out for several months.

This is proving to be a challenge for Georgia workers looking to stay at their job, not to mention large and small business owners alike who want to keep their trained workforce in tact without an interruption in service.

Adding to the slowdown are cuts in state government jobs that have reduced the personnel necessary to take on this extra amount of responsibility. For example, there are not enough state licensing employees to answer the nearly half a million calls the agency has received as a result of these stricter licensing requirements.

The New York Times reported on October 8 that the entire Georgia state licensing division has been reduced to just 87 employees. This is a 30% reduction from 2008, which is four full years before the proof of legal residency requirements went into effect.

The Georgia Secretary of State’s office has pledged not reduce any more positions in the state licensing department so instead it has scheduled to close the Georgia State Archives to the public on November 1 and has drastically reduced its staff. As a result, the work of researchers and historians looking to gather information on the state’s long and storied history will have to be set aside for now as the state does what it can to implement this new certification requirement for professional employees.

Georgia professional license applicants used to be able to renew their licenses entirely online. However, the new proof of legal residency law requires that state licensing staff personally verify everyone’s proof of citizenship or legal residency before a renewal application can be approved. This is happening across the board despite how many times an individual may have renewed their license in previous years.

So far this year more than 8,300 applications have arrived at the Georgia state licensing board without proof of citizenship or legal residency, which has significantly added to the slowdown. Georgia Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, has said that he will petition the legislature to amend the law so that proof of citizenship and/or legal residency will only be required for first time applicants. Until then there is no end in sight for what is proving to be a huge logistical nightmare for Georgia’s limited state resources.

Other states with similar proof of legal residency laws, such as Alabama, could face even greater problems since their oversight is not run by a central state government office but rather operate independently with legislative approval. It remains to be seen how these independent professional boards and commissions will cope with these new requirements. It is not difficult though to anticipate problems and delays will occur on the same or even greater scale than they already have in Georgia.