Some of the most challenging issues faced by immigrants – documented, undocumented, asylees, and refugees alike – are related to finding employment. The key to successful integration of newcomers into society rests upon their ability to find employment and support themselves and their families, yet many barriers can stand in the way of a steady income in America.  In many cases, the job market in Massachusetts may vary from the immigrant’s previous one, and skills may not always be transferable. Language barriers and illiteracy can also pose serious challenges for immigrants seeking self-sufficiency.  Furthermore, immigrants must navigate an unfamiliar legal system in order to obtain the right to work.  While employment is clearly the cornerstone to success in America, an immigrant’s path to employment is often a major challenge.

Work Permits and Eligibility for Employment

Just as B-1 visa (or tourist visa) holders are not permitted to work in the US, neither are undocumented immigrants. Working as an undocumented immigrant, or employing one, is illegal. This not only forces immigrants who could be contributing, active members of the community and economy into the shadows and creates a culture of mistrust and fear, but also causes serious hardship for families of undocumented immigrants.

Labor Rights and Unemployment Benefits

If you are an undocumented worker, certain labor rights such as wage laws and workers compensation benefits if you are injured or become ill because of your job, may still apply to you. Visit for frequently asked questions and in order to seek legal representation. If you think your employer is not following workplace laws, you can call the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Fair Labor Hotline at (617) 727-3465, or for hearing-impaired individuals at (617) 727-4765.

Only individuals who are legally authorized to work in the U.S. are eligible for unemployment benefits in Massachusetts. In order to apply for unemployment, you have to prove you have been working legally in their last job, and have the ability to work legally in the future.

Social Security Numbers and ITINs

Although undocumented immigrants cannot apply for a social security number, they can still pay taxes by obtaining an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). you can read more about ITINs via the Internal Revenue Service and Immihelp, and apply for one here. ITINs are only for tax purposes, and are not valid as a work permit.

Legal Assistance

If you need legal representation, you can use the following tools to find an immigration lawyers in Massachusetts who can help you.

Use MassLegalServices’ Legal Resource Finder to locate lawyers who specialize in employment, taxes or other specific fields.

The Immigration Advocates Networks lets you search for legal aid by state.

MassLegalHelp has also created a helpful list of trustworthy immigration specialists, as well as a list of self-help and informational manuals on immigration law.

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