President Joe Biden signed a provision into law late Thursday that will make it easier across the board for military spouses to transfer professional licenses when making a military move.

This is the first time a federal law requires states to provide reciprocity in accepting valid occupational licenses from previous jurisdictions. The law also applies to service members.

Defense officials have calculated there are more than 132,000 active-duty spouses in occupations that require licensing, representing about 39% of military spouses in the workforce.

Those licenses are required in a wide range of occupations — from realtors to nurses, teachers, cosmetologists and many others. The only profession the new law specifically excludes is the practice of law.

The Defense-State Liaison Office has worked with states for more than a decade to encourage them to put laws and policies into place to help ease the burden for military spouses. Some states have made progress, but problems have persisted.

The provision, dubbed the Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act, is part of the Veterans Auto and Education Improvement Act of 2022.

The provision amends the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, and went into effect when the bill was signed into law, according to Noah Sadlier, spokesman for Rep. Mike Garcia, R-California, who originally introduced the bill and has pushed for the legislation.

For decades, military spouses have faced hassles in transferring occupational licenses when they move. It’s often expensive and time-consuming, causing large hits to the family income as the spouse waits for the license to be approved in order to be able to work in the chosen field.

There are basic requirements laid out in the provision, such as the occupational license must be in good standing with the previous licensing authority and actively used in work that’s a similar scope of practice in the two years immediately preceding the relocation.

If there’s an interstate compact in place for the occupational license, and the service member or spouse is licensed and able to operate in multiple jurisdictions through that compact, that compact will take precedence over the federal law.

Family advocates say the provision is good news for military families, but they also have many questions, such as how states will implement the law.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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