Occupational Licensing in West Virginia

What is Occupational Licensing?

An occupational or professional license is a permit issued by the government that lets someone work in a particular field. In West Virginia, more than one out of five workers must now get an occupational license before they can legally do their jobs. But many licenses don’t even improve service quality or protect the public from actual harm.  

Licenses Create Barriers to Working in West Virginia

Occupational licenses often impose high barriers to entry. That makes it much harder for people to find work or to start a new business. According to the Institute for Justice’s report, License to Work, the average license for low- and moderate-income jobs in West Virginia takes 214 days of education and experience. And those required classes can be very expensive.  

For instance, cosmetology is one of the state’s most popular licenses. In West Virginia, it takes at least 1,800 hours of classes to get a license in cosmetology. On average, a cosmetology program in the state costs $14,281, while the average student takes out $4,569 in federal student loans. But despite such a hefty investment, many cosmetologists barely earn enough to get by: Half of cosmetologists make less than $20,830 a year. 

Sunrise Review in West Virginia 

Under “sunrise review,” whenever a new job regulation is proposed, state regulators must determine whether the regulation is needed, its potential costs and burdens, and if there are any less restrictive alternatives. Between 1999 and 2017, regulators conducted 23 sunrise reviews across 21 different occupations. Many proposed regulations were unfounded: Only 30% of sunrise reviews recommended creating new licenses. All told, the Institute for Justice found that West Virginia’s sunrise reports are “consistently rigorous.”  

Recent Licensing Reforms in West Virginia 

Working with the Institute for Justice, lawmakers in West Virginia have dramatically overhauled the state’s licensing laws. The state sharply reduced experience requirements for journeyman and master electricians, plumbers, and sprinkler fitters and repealed licenses for apprentice electricians, crane operators, fire protection damper technicians, fire protection damper technicians in training, and sprinkler fitters in training. In addition, West Virginia has eliminated licensing barriers for ex-offenders.  

Can You Get a License to Work with a Criminal Record in West Virginia? 

Licensing boards can disqualify applicants if they have been convicted of a crime that has a “rational nexus” to the license wanted. Boards must also consider whether an applicant has been rehabilitated and cannot use convictions older than five years to deny licenses, excluding sexual or violent crimes. West Virginia also requires boards to offer a predetermination process that lets applicants find out if their criminal record would disqualify them, before they start any training or classes. However, the state’s protections do not apply to medical or private security licenses. Overall, West Virginia received a C+ in IJ’s Barred from Working report.  

How You Can Help

If you are an West Virginia resident and you want to help fight against these unfair and unnecessary licensing laws, there are a few ways you can get involved. You can donate to the Institute for Justice, sign up for our email updates, and share our message with your network. Together, we can make sure that all West Virginia workers have the economic liberty they deserve.

West Virginia Occupational Licensing in the News

Are Occupational Licenses Preventing You From Working in West Virginia?

Are you not able to exercise your job or open a business because of burdensome occupational licensing requirements in your state?

Are you forced to waste valuable time and money to become licensed?

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Occupational Licensing Research

Economic Liberty | Occupational Licensing

License to Work 3

This third edition of IJ’s landmark License to Work report finds that for lower-income Americans, licensing continues to be widespread, burdensome and—frequently—irrational. It also provides a blueprint for meaningful licensing reform.

Cosmetology | Economic Liberty

Beauty School Debt and Drop-Outs

Cosmetology is one of the most widely and onerously regulated occupations for lower-income workers, yet little research has explored the experiences of aspiring beauty workers. This first-of-its-kind study takes advantage of federal educational…

Barred From Working

Economic Liberty | Occupational Licensing

Barred From Working

Earning an honest living is one of the best ways to prevent re-offending. But strict occupational licensing requirements make it harder for ex-offenders to find work, thwarting their chances of successful reentry.

Economic Liberty | Occupational Licensing

At What Cost?

Not only do state occupational licensing laws force people to spend a lot of time and money earning a license instead of earning a living, they also impose real economic costs. This study takes advantage…

Learn more about our Economic Liberty work.

Economic liberty—the right to earn a living in the occupation of your choice without unnecessary government interference—is at the heart of the American Dream. Unfortunately, all too many entrepreneurs find that this dream is under constant attack by unreasonable licensing, permitting and other requirements that stand in the way of honest competition.

Learn More

Reforming Occupational Licensing Nationwide

All Americans deserve the opportunity to earn an honest living. Yet occupational licenses, which are essentially permission slips from the government, routinely stand in the way of honest enterprise. Since our founding, IJ has fought to roll back oppressive occupational-licensing rules in more than two dozen distinct occupations, ranging all the way from tax preparers to florists to traditional African hair braiders. Learn more about IJ’s occupational-licensing work in all 50 states:

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