California’s Department of Real Estate (DRE) is about to make it easier for non-residents to become licensed real estate agents and brokers.

The DRE has been licensing non-citizen real estate agents and brokers in California since 2016. In addition to accepting a Social Security number, the 2016 law changes directed the DRE to also accept a licensee applicant’s individual tax identification number (ITIN).

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Real estate licensure to open to noncitizen residents with individual tax IDs (ITINs)

ITINs are used by resident non-U.S. citizens, who lack the citizenship required for a Social Security number. The lack of Social Security number has traditionally kept many non-citizen residents from becoming licensed or credentialed in a number of jobs. The problem was that many individuals were practicing illegally, without a license. Expanding licensure to those with ITINs gave the DRE (and other state departments and agencies) authority over these previously-unlicensed individuals.

While the 2016 law opened the door for non-citizens to become licensed, 2019’s SB 695 goes a step further. It prohibits the DRE from requiring information on the applicants’ citizenship or immigration status. [Calif. Business and Professions Code §30(a)(2)(B)]

Further, the DRE is prohibited from denying licensure solely on the basis of an applicant’s citizenship or immigration status. [Bus & P C §30(a)(2)(C)]

The DRE needs to make these changes no later than July 1, 2019.

Editor’s note — These sweeping changes aren’t limited to real estate. The new law applies to the DRE, as well as other state licensing and credentialing organizations, including the State Bar and the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

first tuesday has advocated for this change, as it encourages undocumented immigrants who are unlicensed but undertaking the responsibilities of an agent to become licensed, and thus be overseen by the DRE. 

California’s open attitude toward migrants

California is relatively friendly to undocumented immigrants and other noncitizens, enabling this population to participate almost fully in the state’s economic and business activities.

The state’s openness toward undocumented immigrants isn’t just a result of its progressive political leanings. Given the size of this population, it’s an economic necessity.

As of 2014, approximately 2.4-2.6 million undocumented immigrants resided in California, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. That’s roughly 6% of the state’s total population. Therefore, enabling these residents to work, pay taxes and contribute to the state’s economy is crucial to keep the state operating at a healthy level.

For real estate, the issue is twofold, as undocumented immigrants may:

  • practice as real estate agents without becoming licensed, thus avoiding DRE oversight; and
  • hesitate to purchase or sell real estate, as they seek to avoid anything that documents their unlawful presence and that may lead to their deportation.

Undocumented immigrants are understandably more likely to seek assistance in buying or selling from a fellow immigrant, who understands their situation and can help them take out a mortgage and buy with an ITIN.

These 2019 changes make it more likely for undocumented immigrants to take the leap into a career in real estate, and with more agents like them, more likely for undocumented homebuyers to take the leap into homeownership.

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Migration influences California’s housing market