The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was established in 2012 by the Obama administration. The program protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children—often referred to as “Dreamers”—from deportation and provides work authorization. As of September 2020, there were 640,760 active DACA recipients, and data has shown that the program not only benefits participants, but also has had a positive effect on the economy.
While the previous administration pushed to roll back DACA in 2020, including rejecting new applications and reducing the time of protection from deportation from two years to one, by year's end, the program returned to its initial framework. On Dec. 7, 2020, by order of the United States District Court, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency reinstated several favorable policies for Dreamers, including accepting first-time requests for DACA consideration and the two-year protection period. And on Jan. 20, 2021, his first day in office, President Biden signed a memorandum directing the Secretary of Homeland Security to take actions aimed at "preserving and fortifying" the DACA program.
Job Searching Challenges for DACA Recipients
However, despite the hopeful turn of events, DACA recipients still face challenges when looking for gainful employment. For example, inaccurate interpretations of federal laws have prevented states from providing licenses to educated DACA recipients for specific trades and occupations, making the career paths for DACA beneficiaries unclear. As a DACA recipient, you can strengthen your position by knowing your rights and responsibilities, keeping up with recent changes to the program, sharing information with your employer, and knowing where to look for the best opportunities.
As a DACA or Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipient, you can receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), commonly referred to as a work permit, through the USCIS. DACA recipients’ work permits must be renewed every two years. Once the USCIS provides you with an EAD, you may be eligible to obtain a Social Security number, which is also helpful for tax purposes.
Employers are required to complete Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification to verify identity and legal authorization to work for all paid employees.
Seeking a job can be a challenging proposition for anyone. However, DACA recipients, even those with EADs, may face more of an uphill battle due to some businesses’ reluctance to hire Dreamers based on certain misconceptions about them that can lead to biases.
In an email interview with The Balance, Candy Marshall, president of TheDream.US, a national scholarship program for Dreamers, provides some clarity on the matter. “Many employers are simply unaware of the fact that Dreamers with DACA/TPS are able to legally work,” she said. “They also sometimes believe that they have to sponsor an employee with DACA/TPS, and that this is a lengthy and expensive process [they] want to avoid. [As a Dreamer], you can help educate them by explaining that you have a work authorization and social security number and that the employee does not need to sponsor you.”
Marshall adds that during a job interview, you do not have to disclose your DACA/TPS status, and if asked, you can simply say that you have a work authorization and a social security number and are able to legally work. “Go forth with confidence,” she said.
Accepting a Job Offer
If your interview is successful, and you have secured and accepted a job offer, it’s important to know that as a DACA recipient, you have the same rights as any other employee in the workplace. Because your EAD, or work permit, is valid, and you can work lawfully, you are protected like other workers. Here are some other facts about the hiring process you should be aware of:
- Employers can't refuse your EAD because of your national origin, the status of your citizenship, or your EAD expiration date.
- You are only required to show "List A" documents, which include an EAD card, to fulfill the Form I-9 requirements.
- Like any new hire, you will need to fill out a Form W-4 so employers can determine how much tax to withhold from your pay.
- Depending on state legislation, employers may be required to use E-Verify, a web-based system furnished by the Department of Homeland Security that allows enrolled employers to confirm the eligibility of their employees to work in the U.S.
Career Connections, a program within TheDream.US, provides answers to several important questions about employment rights with DACA and TPS.
Companies That Share the Dream
While job seekers in the DACA program have faced barriers to entry, a study from the Center for American Progress actually found that nearly three-quarters of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies—including Walmart, Wells Fargo, Apple, General Motors, Amazon, and JPMorgan Chase to name a few—employ DACA recipients.
“Many employers have expressed an openness to hiring Dreamers and, even better, are openly supportive of Dreamers and their right to legally work in this country,” said TheDream.US’s Candy Marshall. She points out that Apple CEO Tim Cook and senior VP Deirdre O’Brien wrote the following in a pro-DACA amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court: “Apple employs 443 Dreamers who come from more than 25 different countries on four continents. We did not hire them out of kindness or charity. We did it because Dreamers embody Apple’s innovation strategy.” Marshall added that 143 businesses and associations, from Airbnb to Google to Upwork, also signed and submitted a pro-DACA amicus brief in 2019 that called on the Supreme Court to protect Dreamers.
Career and Education Resources
There is no reason to go it alone when it comes to your job search. There are many resources available to DACA recipients who are looking to begin or move forward in their careers.
Career Advice and Support
- Eastern Washington University: Many colleges and universities have career centers with helpful information specifically geared to DACA recipients. The Career Resources for DACA & Undocumented Students at Eastern Washington University is a prime example.
- Life After College: A Guide for Undocumented Students: Completing your college degree is quite an accomplishment, but what's next? This guide from San Francisco-based organization Immigrants Rising offers graduates many options.
- Undocumented Professionals Network: Career support, mentorship, networking, and empowerment are all available to you through this online community.
- Undocu Professionals on Instagram: Social networking can be pivotal in a job search, and this Instagram hub can be an ideal place to connect with other DACA recipients.
- Upwardly Global: This organization supports immigrants and refugees who want to contribute their professional skills to the U.S. workforce.
- Facebook.com DREAMer Jobs: This Facebook group allows members to post jobs for DACA recipients. You can also post a request for information on jobs in a particular field.
- Dreamers Bar Association: This nonprofit extends membership to undocumented pre-law students, current law students, practitioners, and paralegals.
Because the job market can be highly competitive, DACA recipients may want to pursue higher education as a means of becoming more attractive to employers.
Undocumented students can receive state financial aid in at least seven states, including California, Minnesota, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.
In addition, there are graduate fellowships open to DACA recipients:
- The Paul and Daisy Soros New American Fellowship: This competitive scholarship program invests in the graduate education of 30 “New Americans”—immigrants and children of immigrants who are poised to make significant contributions to U.S. society, culture or their academic field.
- Ford Foundation Fellowship Program: DACA recipients can apply for predoctoral, dissertation and postdoctoral fellowships that are awarded in a national competition administered by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine on behalf of the Ford Foundation.
Self-Employment and Entrepreneurship
Another employment option for DACA recipients is self-employment. Consider becoming an independent contractor or consultant or starting your own business.
- My Undocumented Life: This article offers advice to immigrants who may want to explore entrepreneurship as an alternative to seeking traditional employment.
- Immigrants Rising: Immigrants Rising has compiled a valuable, comprehensive index of law and policy initiatives, and higher education and entrepreneurship resources.
- Undocuhustle: Undocuhustle is a resource that shows aspiring entrepreneurs how to leverage their skills, knowledge, and experience to seize potentially lucrative contracting or business opportunities.