You need a state license to cut hair in Maine, and to get a license, you have to pass a test.

This has become a problem for a number of new Mainers who don’t have English as a first language. They can complete the 800-hour education program or a 1,600-hour apprenticeship, but when it comes to the written test, they run into a roadblock. The test is available in several languages but not in Arabic, the common language of many immigrants from parts of Africa and the Middle East.

This is a problem with a very easy solution. An Arabic language test should be made available for people who want to work in their communities. You don’t need to speak perfect English to cut hair, and language skills should not be the determining factor in whether someone who is otherwise qualified should be allowed to make a living.

It’s a good question whether anyone, no matter what language they speak, should have to meet such a high standard before they have the right to provide a haircut. This kind of regulation seems to serve the needs of the community of barbers by reducing their competition more than it serves the community at large. But as long as this law is on the books, everybody should have an equal shot at passing the test.

You don’t have to be proficient in English to be a licensed barber in Maine. You can take the written test in Korean, Vietnamese or Spanish. There is no reason Arabic should not be added to the list.

In fact there are some very good reasons to make more licensure tests available in more languages. Maine has a strong interest in encouraging people from every corner of the earth to move here and help them find productive work wherever they can. Expanding our workforce through immigration was a key element of the governor’s 10-year economic development strategic plan, which was released late last year.

“Maine must be known by foreign trained individuals across the U.S. as the most effective state to support their goals to attain a license in their field,” the authors wrote. “Maine will develop and implement a process for effective and timely recognition of credentials issued internationally, by the military, and by other states.”

Remember, it’s not an English test you have to pass to get a barber’s license. If applicants can demonstrate their knowledge and skill in a language in which they are more comfortable, Maine should not stand in their way.


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