Employment during college helps students offset the high tuition costs at U.S. colleges. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you must have an employment authorization document (EAD) in addition to a social security number (SSN) to work legally. The only policy that grants these two documents to undocumented immigrants is Deferred Action, also called DACA. As a DACA beneficiary, your employment opportunities multiply, but no matter your circumstances, it is imperative that you stay within the legal bounds of your immigration status and pay taxes on your income if you do decide to work.
Working with an EAD
I am a DACA beneficiary. Which employment prospects am I allowed to pursue?
- Find a job through a U.S. employer. As a DACA beneficiary, you scored an EAD and a social security number. Take full advantage of those documents by finding a job on or off campus. Despite your DACA approval, you are still not eligible for a work-study arranged through the federal government, but you can take charge of your own job search. Check with your school’s employment office to see if it has any positions open outside of work-study. Otherwise, explore the neighboring area. What restaurants, offices, hotels, and stores are nearby?
- Hold a paid internship. Zero in on your career goals by getting experience in your field. An internship gives you your first taste of post-college life. Unfortunately, internship compensation is usually a small stipend, a low wage, or nothing whatsoever. If you are interested in a certain internship, you might consider holding an additional part-time job to supplement the income from your internship.
- Become an independent contractor. An independent contractor is a person or business that provides services to another operation as specified in a verbal agreement or written contract. Independent contractors are not employees; they are freelancers. Their contracts with outside businesses will state whether the work is paid hourly or with a flat fee, and the freelancer will submit an invoice for his or her services. Unlike employees, independent contractors use their own facilities and supplies such as computers and cars. They also set their own schedules and decide when and how to perform jobs. Businesses often hire independent contractors for special projects in writing and translation services, marketing, graphic design, IT work, carpentry, and many other fields.
- Renew your DACA so that you can work in the United States after graduation too. Your DACA is a temporary solution to your absence of legal immigration papers, and your EAD will expire two years after the date of issue. Renewing your DACA is crucial if you hope to continue working in the United States indefinitely. In fact, with DACA, your opportunities after college are countless. The USCIS website recommends that you submit your DACA renewal request between 120 and 150 days before the expiration date of your EAD. For more information about renewing your DACA, consult a lawyer or the USCIS official website.
- On January 9, 2018, a federal judge issued an injunction allowing the temporary continuation of DACA. Individuals who held DACA status as of September 5, 2017, are now permitted to renew their status. This order only lasts until the resolution of a pending lawsuit filed to preserve the DACA program. Following the resolution, without any change in legislation, DACA protections will begin to expire.
I am a DACA beneficiary. Is there any employment opportunity that I can’t pursue?
As an undocumented immigrant, even if you hold DACA, you are not eligible to participate in federal work-study opportunities. Your best bet is to find a job off campus. You are also not permitted to work after your EAD expires. For that reason, it is especially important that you renew your DACA if you have it so that you can maintain your employment.
Working without an EAD
I am not a DACA beneficiary. What job opportunities am I allowed to pursue?
Under federal law, no person can hold a paid job in the United States without authorized work documents. If you do not have an SSN and EAD, your options are few. One thing that you could do, however, is take an unpaid internship or job shadow. This is not a way to make money, but it is a way to get résumé-worthy experience. Generally, students take internships to explore their fields and visualize their careers. Without DACA, you cannot accept payment for an internship, but for some students, the experience is an investment in the future. Talk to the fieldwork office at your school to see if you can work an internship in exchange for course credit.
I am not a DACA beneficiary. Am I barred from pursuing any job opportunities?
If you are an undocumented immigrant who does not hold DACA, the law prohibits you from working in the United States.
- You cannot participate in federal work-study.
- You cannot find a job through a U.S. employer. Under federal law, U.S. employers are required to verify the work authorization of all new hires. Failure to do so is punishable by hefty penalties or prison time. Undocumented immigrants, unless they have been approved for DACA, do not have legal authorization from the Department of Homeland Security to work in the United States in any capacity.
- You cannot hold a paid internship. Federal law forbids any employer, including a company offering an internship, to pay you for your work.
- You cannot become an independent contractor. Undocumented workers who do not have EADs may struggle to find jobs because they cannot legally work in the United States. They may try to solve the problem by self-employing or working for themselves as independent contractors. It must be noted that this is illegal under U.S. law. Many people do so anyway, however, because they can easily hide their immigration status from the businesses that contract out to them. There is no law that requires a business to confirm the immigration status of its independent contractors, but a business is forbidden from knowingly hiring an independent contractor who does not have work documents. If it does, it will be subject to civil penalties under section 274A of the INA.
I am not a DACA beneficiary, but I work under the table or self-employ anyway. Do I need to pay taxes?
If you are an undocumented immigrant who is not a DACA beneficiary, you have no options for legal employment. With that being said, if you do work under the table or as an independent contractor (freelance or self-employed), you must pay taxes to the IRS if you make more than $400 annually.
Foreign workers who are undocumented are still subject to U.S. taxes despite their unauthorized immigration status. Without a social security number, you will need to request an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) from the IRS. It’s easy to do by filling out Form W-7. Paying your taxes is not typically a cause for concern; it is not customary for the IRS to report your immigration status to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Page last updated: 01/2018
Continued Support for Undocumented College Students
Financial Aid for Undocumented Students
Evaluating Your Best Options for College
Your Right to Higher Public Education by State
College Planning Guide for Undocumented Students
Deferred Action Procedures
Obstacles for Undocumented Students
Who Are Undocumented Students?