Education can mean anything from primary and secondary education and higher education, to adult and continuing education, life skills training, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes, and skills training programs. Various forms of education can bridge the gap between immigrants and the job market they land in the midst of.

This section will cover the following topics:

  • Elementary and Secondary Education
    • Undocumented Children Unaccompanied by Adults
    • Enrolling in Public School
  • Higher education
    • Who can attend college?
    • Financial Aid and Tuition
    • Resources for Undocumented Students
  • English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)

Elementary and Secondary Education

Under Federal law, states and school districts are to provide all children in the United States with equal access to a basic public education, regardless of their own citizenship or immigration status or that of their parents or guardians. The United States Supreme Court held in the case of Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982) that a State may not deny access to a basic public education to any child residing in the State, whether present in the United States legally or otherwise. That means that children and young adults without a legal immigration status have the same right to attend public primary and secondary schools (K-12) as do U.S. citizens and permanent residents. This also includes “children who are awaiting immigration proceedings while residing in local communities with a parent, family member, or other appropriate adult sponsor” (U.S. Department of Education). Like other children, undocumented students are obliged under state law to attend school until they reach a mandated age.

Undocumented children Unaccompanied by Adults

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement, state that unaccompanied children are to be released “…from Federal custody to an appropriate sponsor – usually a parent, family member, or family friend – who can safely and appropriately care for them while their immigration cases proceed.  While residing with a sponsor, unaccompanied children, like other children, are required to attend school up to a certain age established under State law. Sponsors must help unaccompanied children to enroll in school immediately following family reunification.”

Download the full report here.

Enrolling in Public School

When enrolling in school, the parent or legal guardian may be asked to submit specific documentation such as proof of residency in the school district, proof of age for the child, or social security numbers for the children or parents. The failure to produce any of these documents, however, should not prevent enrollment in the school. The school district should furthermore not inquire about the immigration status of the adult nor the child during this process. If you are having trouble enrolling in school, you should seek legal advice.

If the parent or guardian speaks another language than English, the school is required to ensure “meaningful communication” by offering translated materials or a language interpreter, and must provide a translator at any meetings. Language assistance must be free and provided by appropriate and competent staff or outside resources.

Visit MassLegalHelp for more information on the rights of undocumented youths.

Download the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement’s report on the rights of undocumented children in the U.S. school system here.

Download the U.S. Department of Education‘s Resource Guide on Supporting Undocumented Students in High School and College here.

The Attorney General has also created an advisory on the Rights and Obligations of Schools in Response to ICE Requests for Access or Information.

Higher Education

The U.S. Department of Education points out that “three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require education and training beyond a high school diploma”.  But for undocumented young adults and asylum seekers, accessing higher education can be challenging, and access to financial aid is limited.

Who can attend college?

Immigrants awaiting an asylum decision are legally eligible to attend college or a vocational programs, and may enroll in classes. Different universities have different acceptance requirements, however, and you should research the school’s eligibility criteria before applying to find out if proof of citizenship or legal residency is required in order to attend. You might not be eligible for certain internship or work study programs.

Financial Aid and Tuition

Although asylum seekers are legally authorized to remain in the U.S. while their asylum case is pending, lack of an official immigration status does limit the type of financial aid these students can receive, and may also impact how much they get charged for tuition. Many of the same rules and regulations apply for asylum seekers as for other undocumented individuals.

From the Boston Teacher Union- Unafraid Educators: “Undocumented students, including DACA students and Dreamers, are not eligible for federal student aid. That means that Federal Pell Grants, Federal Work-Study, and Federal District Student Loans are not available to you. However, you may be eligible for state financial aid, college financial aid, and/or financial aid from private organizations” (see list below). Certain exemptions are made for non-citizens, including those who are victims of human trafficking or of abuse by their citizen or permanent resident spouse. For more information on eligibility criteria, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid pages.

When it comes to tuition, most colleges consider students without a granted immigration status as international students, which means that they get charged full tuition instead of the lower in-state tuition offered to documented students. However, the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education states in their Residency Status Policy that “Non-citizens who are in (or who are eligible to apply and who have applied for) refugee/asylum status are likewise eligible to be considered for Massachusetts residency for tuition purposes provided that they meet the same requirements for establishing residency in Massachusetts as are required of a United States citizen. All non-citizens must provide appropriate United States Citizenship and Immigration Services documentation to verify their status.” This means that refugees may qualify for in-state tuition as long as they meet the criteria for residency. Check with the university for any additional residency requirements.

Scholarship and Financial Aid for undocumented Students

For information about financial aid and scholarships available for students without official immigration status, visit the following links:

Download the U.S. Department of Education‘s Resource Guide on Supporting Undocumented Students in High School and College here. For a list of scholarship available to undocumented immigrants, see pages 38-48.

Search the U.S. Department of Labor’s free online scholarship database here.

The Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement’s lists of various scholarship opportunities for immigrant students.

List of scholarships for undocumented students, via UMass Boston.

The Boston Teachers Union (BTU) and the Student Immigration Movement (SIM) have created a resource document for immigrant students applying for college. The document includes information about financial aid and scholarship opportunities, as well as a list of colleges and universities that are friendly to undocumented students.

Resources for Students Without Documentation

The following sites and organizations provide additional information and resources for  students who are applying for higher education without immigration status granted.

The Massachusetts Office of Financial Assistance has compiled a list of resources to help you navigate the process of applying for financial aid and paying for college, as well as a financial aid glossary.

The Refugee Center online provides through information on the college application process.

Student Immigrant Movement (SIM)
The Student Immigrant Movement is a MA-based organization by and for immigrant students. Their mission is to build the power of immigrant students by identifying, recruiting, and developing leaders across Massachusetts and the United States to address the problems in their own communities. In addition to organizing youth, they provide political education, leadership training, guidance, mentorship, and safe healing spaces.

Boston Teachers Union – Unafraid Educators
Unafraid Educators are committed to creating resources and leading district-wide events that stand in solidarity with undocumented and immigrant students and families. They provide information on the unafraid scholarship, FAQs on tuition and financial aid, know your rights cards, and additional information for students and families.

Boston Public SchoolsWe Dream Together
Lists a range of resources and know-your-rights information for immigrants students and families, as well as educators.

English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) 

The English Works Campaign, a coalition of immigrant community leaders, labor unions, business and civic leaders, educators, and advocates across Massachusetts, states that “Over one-third (1.1 million) of the state’s 3.2 million workers need Adult Basic Education (ABE) and/or English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes to meet the needs of our rapidly changing economy. Nearly 500,000, or 7 out of 10 adult immigrants in the state, are in of need of services in order to fully participate in the state’s economy” (English Works).

Massachusetts Adult Literacy Hotline 
For information and referrals for over 300 adult education programs, contact the Massachusetts Adult Literacy Hotline at (800) 447-8844, or use the Find a Program tool on their webpage. The phone operators speaks English and Spanish, and will ask you your name, phone number, area code and the type of courses you are interested in.

Programs include one-on-one tutoring as well as small-group or classroom instruction to adult learners, and cover basic reading, math, adult basic education, English language training, family literacy, High School Equivalency Test preparation or testing sites. When you have found a course you’re interested in, you can use the contact information to inquire about any immigration status requirements.

Literacy Volunteers of Massachusetts (LVM)
LVM trains volunteer tutors to provide free, confidential and individualized tutoring to adults in basic literacy and English as a Second Language. Potential student must be over 16 years of age, cannot be enrolled in school and must be able to make a regular commitment to tutoring. Please note that LVM programs may have a waiting list, depending on the location. They also offer a list of ESOL resources and statistics.

Massachusetts Public Libraries
Public libraries are also good resources for English learners. In addition to free books, DVDs, CDs, internet and computer access, many libraries across Massachusetts offer free literacy services, conversation groups, ESOL, and citizenship programs, as well as computer classes. Each branch has an Immigrant Information Corner with immigration, financial planning, and tax assistance information, and some. Q ABOUT IMM STATUS SUBMITTED.

MIRA Coalition
The MIRA Coalition are part of the English Works Campaign, and offer information about ESOL resources on their pages. Contact the ESOL providers listed to inquire about any immigration status requirements.

Online Education

An online education cuts through the inevitable backlog of applying to physical universities and allows students to continue learning immediately without having to worry about language barriers or being overwhelmed by a pace that’s too fast or inconvenient class times.

EdX offers high school courses online classes from many of the world’s top universities for free. You can get a completion certificate for a fee. The fee depends on the course, but typically costs a few hundred dollars.

The Refugee Center Online has a list of websites to learn English online.

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