Guide to Personal Finance and Support for Undocumented Immigrants

Updated: March 14, 2024

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As an immigrant, you came to this country in search of prosperity. But along with new opportunities, you may have also faced unexpected financial obstacles. From opening a bank account to building your credit history, many barriers make economic assimilation difficult for non-citizens.

While being undocumented in the United States is a daily uphill battle, having a solid financial education is the first step toward success in this country. It can help you gain access to banking tools, find professional support, make better financial decisions and put a plan in place to achieve the American dream.

Immigrants As Part of the US Economy


Immigrants — both authorized and unauthorized — play an important role in the U.S. workforce. Understand the facts that offer a big-picture perspective of foreign-born workers' contributions to the country's economy.

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As of 2018, the Department of Homeland Security estimated an unauthorized immigrant population of 11.4 million in the U.S.

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About 64.7% of immigrants over the age of 16 were part of the labor force in 2021.

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Contrary to popular belief, only 21.2% of immigrants were in service occupations in 2021. Around 35.2% of immigrants held management, professional and related roles.

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The most popular industry grouping for immigrants to work for is educational services, health care and social assistance as of 2021. This is followed by the professional, scientific, management and administrative sectors.

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With a median income of $898 per week, foreign-born workers earned 88.3% of what U.S.-born workers made in 2021.

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Nearly 52.3% of the foreign-born population over the age of 25 have continued their education beyond high school as of 2021. That includes attaining bachelor's, associate and graduate degrees.

Unique Challenges Facing Undocumented Immigrants

The Department of Homeland Security defines unauthorized immigrants as "all foreign-born non-citizens who are not legal residents." As a result of being out of status, undocumented immigrants face a unique set of financial disadvantages.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau identifies socioeconomic conditions, limited English proficiency and lack of familiarity with U.S. financial institutions and products as the main impediments to immigrant financial success. These challenges create other issues that make economic stability even more difficult for immigrants.

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    Finding work

    If you can't meet documentation and identification requirements, finding employment and earning fair wages may be difficult. This limits the types of jobs you can perform and creates unequal working conditions. To avoid labor violations due to immigration status, the Department of Labor recently issued guidance for workers to report abuse without fear of legal consequences.

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    Low income

    Building wealth is challenging when limited to low-paying jobs or the informal economy. According to the White House, being out of status reduces the productivity and economic output of immigrants in the United States. This same article goes on to suggest that granting this population permanent resident status would boost the economy and generate higher tax collections while also benefiting future generations.

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    Language and cultural barriers

    Limited English skills make it tough for newcomers to understand the U.S. financial system. Documents that include technical terms may only be available in English, and often, immigrants rely on their children to translate for them.

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    Lack of trust

    A Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) survey indicates that due to bad experiences, many immigrants prefer to stay away from mainstream financial institutions. Fears include high fees, minimum balance requirements and negative banking practices in their own home countries.

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    Documentation requirements

    It's a common misconception that American banks require a Social Security number (SSN) and/or a U.S. driver's license to open an account. In fact, the USA Patriot Act allows banks to accept foreign passports, consular IDs and other forms of identification. As a non-citizen, you can also use an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) to open accounts with many financial institutions.

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    Poor credit or no credit

    Lack of credit history limits your ability to access credit cards, home loans or business capital. This creates a disadvantage — especially considering that many immigrants are debt-averse, unfamiliar with the U.S. credit system and face extreme income insecurity.

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How to Gain Access to Financial Products and Services

Regardless of your immigration status, financial literacy can help you better understand money matters, build credit history and become an informed consumer. With a solid financial education and a strategic plan in place, you can take charge of your economic situation as you begin to settle in this country. In the short run, being financially literate can provide greater stability and increase confidence in your decisions. In the long term, financial literacy can also help you prepare for the future while allowing you to ensure the well-being of the next generation.

Paying for Health Care

Getting sick can burden anyone, but for undocumented immigrants, lack of access to health care can cause even more significant financial problems. In its 2021 survey, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 42% of undocumented immigrants were uninsured. This statistic is even more striking compared to the 8% of U.S. citizens who don't have health insurance.

That’s why learning about the U.S. health care system and your options can help you stay physically and financially healthy.

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Access to health care is a universal right and a basic need for all. While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) prevents undocumented immigrants from purchasing insurance through the Marketplace, the following tips can help you become familiar with U.S. medical services and available resources.

  • The right to medical care: You have the right to receive medical care, regardless of your immigration status or access to insurance. That includes emergency rooms, doctor visits and essential hospitals that provide care even if you're unable to pay.
  • Consider low-cost preventive care: Many community clinics or health centers across the country offer free or low-cost medical care for all patients. Look for a health care center near you to access preventive care, screenings and other routine examinations that could help you stay healthy and avoid costly medical care in the future.
  • Apply for emergency Medicaid: Limited emergency coverage is available for undocumented immigrants who would qualify for Medicaid if they were U.S. citizens. Contact your state Medicaid agency to apply if you meet the income and other requirements.
  • Look into subscription-based health care: Although they don't meet states' health insurance requirements, subscription-based health care programs can offer an affordable alternative to traditional insurance. These services can help you keep up with regular doctor visits and, in some cases, could even grant you access to discounts on prescription medications.
  • Get coverage for children who qualify: If you're undocumented, but your children are U.S. citizens, you can apply for coverage on their behalf. Your child may be eligible for free or low-cost health insurance through Medicaid or your state's program.

Opening a Bank Account

A U.S. bank account can make everyday transactions easier while safeguarding your money and offering better control of your finances. Opening a bank account can also help you establish a solid banking history and a relationship with financial institutions. With a checking or savings account in good standing, you can access loans, credit cards or mortgages if you need them in the future.

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Despite the benefits, many undocumented immigrants wonder if they're able to open a bank account in the U.S. The answer is yes! Here are some helpful tips for setting one up:

  • Identification requirement: Most banks allow you to open an account with a foreign passport or a consular ID if you don't have a U.S. driver's license.
  • ITIN: You don't need an SSN to open a bank account. Many institutions don't require one at all, while others accept an ITIN as an alternative. The IRS provides this identification number for individuals who don't meet the requirements to get an SSN. You can download the ITIN application directly from the IRS website and receive your ITIN within six weeks.
  • Account minimums: Every bank has a different policy on the dollar amount needed to open an account — usually between $25 and $100. Some institutions also have a minimum daily balance, depending on the type of account that you open. By researching or visiting your nearest branch, you can learn more and choose the right bank account for you.
  • Fees: When opening an account, take the time to look into the types of payments that the bank charges. These fees could include monthly maintenance, overdrafts, insufficient funds, out-of-network ATM transactions or wire transfers. Understanding what these fees mean and when they're charged will help you avoid surprises and save money.

Building Credit

Building credit history is a process that takes time, especially as an undocumented immigrant. When a financial institution grants you a credit card, loan or line of credit, you establish a relationship with it. By keeping up with your payments, you'll be able to build your credit score and gain access to other financial resources.

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Building your credit score is an important step toward reaching your financial goals in this country. Even if you don't have an SSN or a green card, you may be eligible for financial tools using your ITIN. By understanding the risks and benefits of borrowing money, you can develop a credit strategy tailored to your needs and maintain your credit in good standing.

  • Start with the right card: Credit cards for beginners are a great way to build your credit history. Whether you apply for a traditional or secured credit card, these tools are a convenient option for newcomers. Keep in mind that they may carry higher interest rates than other cards, but using them wisely can help you access lower rates in the future.
  • Consider rewards: Credit cards that offer rewards can help you build your credit history while saving you money on other purchases. While these usually require a higher credit score, you may be eligible for them once you've established some credit history.
  • Keep an eye on your credit: Credit reports are the best way to keep track of your score and history. They're also what lenders will look at when considering your credit applications. Knowing what's on the report allows you to take charge of your credit and improve it as needed.
  • Watch out for fraud: Immigrants often are the targets of scams regarding loans and other fraudulent offers. You can protect yourself by double-checking everything you sign, safeguarding your SSN or ITIN and banking with reputable institutions. If you're a victim of a scam, don't hesitate to report fraud to the Federal Trade Commission.

Saving for Retirement

Often, immigrants have different retirement behaviors than those born in the United States. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, immigrants tend to have lower Social Security benefits due to lower income levels and shorter working periods. Many reach retirement age in poor health conditions, which forces them to stop working earlier.

And in the case of undocumented immigrants, claiming Social Security benefits is not an option. Compounded with the traditional belief that younger generations have a responsibility to care for the elderly, this makes retirement a challenge for immigrants.

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Despite cultural and financial considerations, saving for retirement is crucial in this economy. With a proactive approach and an early start, you can prepare for a comfortable retirement.

  • Talk about retirement: As an immigrant, retirement can feel scary — especially when it's a new concept for you. That's why having a retirement strategy is key to planning for the future. This involves saving money while you're young, investing it wisely and seeking the help of a professional. Determine how you'll spend these funds when you stop working.
  • Plan your retirement spending: Even if you're still young, you can start budgeting your retirement expenses now. Smart spending in retirement is the key to stretching your dollars and feeling financially secure when you're no longer working.
  • Understand retirement income: Managing your income in retirement is as important as how you spend your money. With the right financial tools and planning, you can get a better understanding of your income streams and how to tap into them when needed.


Many immigrants come to the United States to build wealth; investing can be a way to achieve that goal. Although some brokerage firms ask for SSN or citizenship status to open accounts, this is not a government requirement. If you'd like to invest, look for a firm that accepts your ITIN and foreign passport.

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One of the best ways for new investors to enter the market is by learning about investment vehicles and the account types available. The following suggestions will point you in the right direction as you start your investment journey:

  • Set goals: First, ask yourself why you want to invest. Is it to save for retirement, pay for your kids' college or build a nest egg? Most likely, you'll have several short and long-term goals. Thinking of these objectives will help you determine which type of accounts you should open and how to manage each of them.
  • Assess your risk tolerance: While some investors are comfortable with big market swings and can afford losses, others are more conservative and prefer to avoid risk. Your age and personal financial situation will also play a crucial role in determining your risk tolerance. Although there are no guarantees in investments, understanding your preferences can help you decide which types of investments are appropriate for you.
  • Choose between robo-advisors and financial planners: Thanks to modern technology, investors now have a choice of the type of advisor that they hire. Robo-advisors are artificial intelligence that helps manage your investment portfolio based on the goals you set, your risk tolerance and current market conditions. This service is less expensive than a financial planner but cannot provide personalized advice. If you'd like access to expert advice, a planner may be best for you.
  • Think long term: The reality of investments is that there are ups and downs. When market downturns occur, staying calm and informed will help you navigate market volatility as a new investor.

Paying Taxes

The IRS states three reasons why undocumented immigrants pay taxes:

  • It’s mandated by law
  • It offers an opportunity to contribute to the economy
  • It shows compliance which can later help you on your path to citizenship

Although the IRS cannot calculate exact immigrant tax filing rates, a report by the Congressional Budget Office on the economic impact of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. estimates that six million undocumented individuals file taxes every year. It further states that at least 50% to 75% of unauthorized residents pay local, state and federal taxes, with about half of undocumented immigrants contributing to Social Security and Medicare taxes.

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Filing a tax return can feel overwhelming when you're from another country. If you're unfamiliar with the forms or the process, the following insights can help you feel more confident when it's time to file your next tax return.

  • Get an ITIN: With an ITIN, you can file your taxes each year. This number also comes in handy when you want to open bank accounts or apply for credit.
  • Work with a tax preparer: A reputable and experienced tax preparer can help you file your annual tax returns promptly and efficiently. This is especially important if you have multiple sources of income, work in the informal economy or find tax filing confusing and need extra help.
  • Look into estimated tax payments: If you work independently and don't receive a paycheck with tax withdrawals, you may be required to make estimated tax payments throughout the year. These payments are mandatory for anyone who expects to owe more than $1,000. They also make it easier to cover the amount due in installments rather than paying all at once.

Increasing Income

Due to limited employment opportunities, undocumented immigrants often find themselves earning a low income. Studies show that the average wage gap between unauthorized and documented immigrants is 35%.

While some of this pay difference is due to differences in skill level and legal restrictions, the reality is that low earnings make it very challenging for the undocumented population to achieve financial stability and create long-term economic growth.

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There are several ways for undocumented immigrants to increase their income and provide their families with better livelihoods. Here are some ideas to help you earn more money, even if you are not a U.S. citizen.

  • Continue your education: Acquiring new skills can help you offer a variety of services and access higher-paying jobs. You can sign up for courses at community colleges, take classes online or earn certificates to start a new career.
  • Buy and sell products: Online marketplaces provide a platform for buyers and sellers worldwide. This can create an opportunity to increase your income while working from home.
  • Join the gig economy: From offering shared rides to tutoring, the gig economy offers many opportunities to make the most of your resources and skills. This could be extra money you make on top of your job or, in some cases, your primary source of income.
  • Tie the increased income to your financial goals: Extra income can help boost your personal finances if you have a plan for these funds. Some people choose to pay off debt, others grow their savings, while others set money aside for short-term goals.

Getting Personal Loans

Personal loans can help you stay afloat or kickstart a business as an immigrant in the United States — even if you don't have an SSN. Although some lenders may require a valid visa extending for the duration of your loan repayment, this could vary depending on the financial institution.

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Because each lender has its own requirements, it's essential to find the right financial institution for your situation. This will ensure that the terms meet your needs and that the lender structures the loan in a way that helps you pay successfully. Look out for the following:

  • Determine your loan amount: Borrowing only the amount you need is the safest way to ensure that your debt is manageable.
  • Budget your payments: Adding a monthly payment to your budget could lead to financial complications. Before committing to a loan, make sure you can afford the required amount.
  • Compare interest rates: Low-interest rate is key to paying your debt off quickly and using the loan as an efficient financial tool.
    Review the terms: Ensure you are clear on the loan's terms and conditions, the applicable fees and all other details that could affect the final repayment amount.
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Rights, Benefits and Eligibility

Research by the Consumer Bureau of Financial Protection indicates that the immigrant community gets financial information from friends and family. This can create misinformation and fear, causing undocumented families to stay away from banking, avoid enrolling in health care and hesitate to apply for program assistance.

Understanding your financial and legal rights is essential to your assimilation process and can help you find economic success in this country.

The right to unionize

As stated by the National Labor Relations Board, undocumented workers have the same rights under the National Labor Relations Act as all covered employees. That includes the right to join unions, discuss working conditions and take action to improve these conditions without fear of employers calling Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The right to education

The U.S. Department of Education guarantees elementary and high school education for all children in this country regardless of citizenship or a parent's immigration status. Many states also provide in-state college tuition rates and financial aid for undocumented students who completed high school at their state institutions.

The right to health care

While undocumented immigrants cannot participate in government insurance programs or purchase Marketplace coverage, they can buy private insurance. Immigrants can also access emergency health care if they meet all other requirements for Medicaid, except citizenship. If you are undocumented, but your child is a U.S. citizen, you may apply for health care on their behalf.

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Financial Support and Advocacy for Undocumented Immigrants

If you are ineligible for federal aid, you may still qualify for state or local assistance from government and private institutions. From economic support to nutrition programs and disaster relief, resources are available to help undocumented immigrants across the country.

Requirements may vary depending on the program, but you will usually need to provide income and other basic information to receive assistance. Many of these organizations also accept contributions from individuals who support the cause.

Organizations Helping Undocumented Immigrants

Created to fill the gaps and help improve the conditions of immigrants in this country, activist organizations are essential to the well-being of the undocumented community.

Review some of the top advocacy groups that provide resources and aid for immigrants across the country below.

How to Support

The largest immigrant
youth-led network in the
country. This nonprofit
supports education, fights to
stop deportations and works
to give immigrants a voice.

You can donate or join as a
member to make calls, sign
petitions and take action to
support the dignity of

An immigrant-led movement
with autonomous circles that
campaigns for the legal
status and respect of
immigrants across 20
communities in the U.S.

Unpaid volunteers offer
full-time support — as part of
a community that supports
and helps meet basic needs.
This organization also values
donations from the public.

Using the power of narrative,
this organization tells the
stories of immigrants to
humanize and support the
undocumented population.

Purchase merchandise,
donate or partner to create
content that tells the stories
of immigrants.

A nonprofit advocacy group
that works to change
litigation, advance positive
public attitudes and demand
a fair process for immigrants.

Attorneys can get involved by
joining its network of
supporters. The general
public can also attend the
organization's events, enter
contests or donate funds.

An advocacy group that
addresses immigration reform
and workforce needs, creates
opportunities for integration
and promotes state and local
policies that support immigrants.

This forum offers internships
and volunteer opportunities. It
also accepts multiple forms of
donations and sells
merchandise to those who
want to support the cause.

Needs-Based Resources for the Community

Immigrants' most pressing challenges in the U.S. include education, health care, legal assistance, food, safety and protection from discrimination. When these basic needs are covered, it's easier to thrive in a new country and contribute to society. That's why various organizations offer resources to support immigrants joining the economy and assimilating into this country.


Education can unlock success for immigrants and future generations. But according to a study from 2012, immigrant students and children of immigrants face challenges — like interrupted schooling, language and cultural differences, lack of socioeconomic resources and discrimination. By breaking those systemic barriers, immigrant families can access an education system that offers greater opportunities.

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Whether you register your young children in school, support your teenagers to achieve higher education or sign yourself up for adult learning, the following resources can help in your family's academic journey.

Health Care

A study on the challenges for immigrant health in the U.S. points to restrictions on access to public programs and the political environment as a barrier the undocumented population must face. For this reason, state programs may be better suited to help improve the health care of the immigrant community.

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When it comes to health, local and private resources are the most convenient ways for undocumented immigrants to receive medical care. Here are some tips to help you stay healthy and avoid costly medical bills:

  • Private health insurance plans: Since undocumented immigrants cannot access the Marketplace, private coverage is one of the most accessible alternatives. Because cost and coverage will vary, it's important to compare your options and find the plan that best meets your needs and budget.
  • Find a Health Center: Low-cost or free clinics are a popular health care option for undocumented immigrants across the country. Services range from preventive care to prescription coverage and dental visits, depending on available funds and your eligibility.
  • Pregnancy Medicaid: Certain states provide free medical care for undocumented pregnant women who meet income requirements.
  • Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA): This regulation prevents hospitals from turning patients needing emergency care away because they lack insurance. If you are uninsured, undocumented and in need of urgent care, Medicaid may cover the cost of your treatment if you meet income limits.

Legal Aid

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) indicates that immigrants have a right to freedom of speech and religion, fair treatment, privacy and other fundamental rights — regardless of their legal status. When facing deportation, undocumented immigrants are still entitled to a hearing, legal representation, competent interpretation services and the opportunity to present evidence that supports their case.

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Having legal representation is essential as it protects your rights as an undocumented immigrant. The following resources can help on your path to citizenship:

  • Pro Bono Legal Service Providers: Many immigration experts across the country take on cases free of charge. This directory includes nonprofit organizations and private attorneys who can work with you and represent you in court.
  • DACA Support: Knowing your rights as a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient is the best way to maintain your status and protect your rights.

Food and Shelter

While not all states across the country provide food assistance programs for non-citizens, there are a handful of states where some immigrants may be eligible for certain food benefits. State funds administer and finance these programs.

According to the Latino Policy Forum, undocumented immigrants do not qualify for Section 8 or federal housing programs funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). However, HUD-funded programs that provide emergency shelter and transitional housing are available to immigrants for up to two years, regardless of their legal status.

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There are resources and programs to help you and your family access food and housing. Below are some of the organizations that offer assistance:

  • Feeding America: From baby formula to fresh fruit and vegetables, your local food bank is an excellent resource for providing meals for your family.
  • National School Meals Program: If your child is enrolled in public school, they can receive nutritious meals for free or at a low cost.
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC): Pregnant women and those who gave birth recently can receive food benefits, regardless of immigration status.
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Even if you're undocumented, children who are U.S. citizens and live in mixed households can apply for this program if their parents meet income requirements.
  • Homeless Prevention Programs: This directory of community providers can help you start your search for programs that offer assistance in finding affordable housing.
  • Just Shelter: This listing of national resources includes government and nonprofit organizations to help prevent evictions and access housing.
  • Find Shelter: This HUD tool also includes information on clothing, food pantries and health clinics near you.
  • Emergency Rental Assistance Programs: Qualifying immigrants may be eligible for local emergency rental assistance programs, as the Consumer Bureau of Financial Protection indicates.

Public Safety

Although fears of deportation and mistreatment taint police-immigrant relationships, some factors can change this. They include communication, outreach, improved representation and collaboration.

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Through initiatives that build trust and integrate immigrant communities, the National League of Cities Center for Research and Innovation believes localities can overcome public safety challenges for the undocumented.

  • Battered Women's Justice Project Guide: While created with immigrant women in mind, this handbook offers support on how to respond to domestic violence. It also addresses immigration status concerns for undocumented women.
  • Women's Refugee Commission: With a list of toll-free numbers to help detained women find their families and information on legal assistance, this organization helps safeguard the rights of immigrant women and their kids.
  • HHS Domestic Violence Fact Sheet: A listing of programs and services available through the Department of Health and Human Services to support immigrant survivors of domestic violence.
  • Family Preparedness Plan: For families facing deportation, this guide helps immigrants prepare a plan to deal with this type of situation.

Protection from Discrimination

Even if you're out of status and not eligible to work in the United States, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on color, race, religion, sex or national origin.

To further support this, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) prohibits discrimination against protected individuals based on national origin or immigration status.

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The following resources can help you gain awareness of discriminatory practices and become familiar with your options.

  • Office for Civil Rights: This fact sheet outlines the type of federal programs that receive federal assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services. It provides information on how to file a complaint against any of these institutions.
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCIS): An informational resource to help prevent discrimination in the Form I-9 and E-Verify process.
  • U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission: This website outlines immigrants' employment rights and breaks down federal anti-discrimination laws to help workers understand their rights.
  • American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Fairness for All: This program explains the constitutional protections for all people who reside in the United States, including undocumented immigrants. It walks you through your rights during the immigration process, detention, work and in interactions with the authorities to help prevent discrimination.

FAQs About Benefits Eligibility Restrictions and Financial Assistance

Eligibility for benefits and financial assistance can be confusing for undocumented immigrants. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions to provide clarity and help guide you through the assimilation process.

I am undocumented. Can I apply for any benefits for myself and my family?
Can you collect Social Security if you are an undocumented immigrant?
If I am an undocumented immigrant, can I get benefits for my child, who is a U.S. citizen?
I don't speak English well. Are there any services available to help?

Expert Insight on Financial Assimilation of Undocumented Immigrants

MoneyGeek spoke to leading scholars who study the financial assimilation of immigrants in the United States to get their expert insight.

  1. What role does personal finance play in the acculturation of immigrants?
  2. How does access to higher education support immigrant assimilation and the creation of generational wealth?
  3. What are some ways in which undocumented immigrants can overcome systemic barriers to create more economic opportunities for themselves?
  4. What type of policy would help promote inclusion and meet the needs of immigrants in the U.S. financial markets?
  5. How could increased immigrant use of financial tools benefit the economy overall?
  6. How could the U.S. financial industry make its services more accessible to immigrants across the country?
Connel Fullenkamp
Connel FullenkampProfessor of the Practice of Economics at the Duke University
Nathalie Martin
Nathalie MartinProfessor of Law, Frederick M. Hart Chair in Consumer and Clinical Law at the University of New Mexico
Erika Arenas
Erika ArenasAssistant Professor at the UC Santa Barbara

Resources for Undocumented Immigrants

Starting a new life in a different country is no easy feat. As an immigrant, it's easier to overcome these financial challenges when you're familiar with the help that's available to you. From legal assistance to health care, these resources can facilitate your assimilation journey.

About Lucia Caldera

Lucia Caldera headshot

Lucia Caldera, the founder of Corporate Media Lab, has 10 years of experience in financial planning, management and advising. She writes finance content for MoneyGeek, using her personal finance background to help readers achieve financial wellness.

Lucia holds a master’s degree in international political economy and development from Fordham University and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Clark University. Her work reflects her passion for using financial education to reduce the wealth gap for women and minorities.