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Transfer Process for Undocumented and Refugee Students: Models and Considerations for 2 & 4 Year Institutions

Public community colleges enroll around 4,662,364 students.¹ Additionally, immigrant-origin students accounted in 2018 for 5.3 million students, or 28% of all students, in higher education.² Community colleges often serve as the gateway into higher education for many immigrant and refugee students; particularly for undocumented students. Given these large numbers, the purpose of this guide is to ensure that campuses, both 2 and 4 year, consider the unique experiences and challenges that undocumented and refugee students face during the transfer process.  This guide is intended to provide tangible examples and resources that community colleges and 4-year institutions can adapt to create inclusive materials and programs and intentionally support the college and career success of undocumented and refugee students as they transfer.

Who is this guide for? 

  • Community college and 4-year institutions’ staff, faculty, students and administrators

Who are undocumented and refugee students?

Oftentimes, both undocumented and refugee students are non-traditional students, adult learners, and parents.They may work full-time or multiple jobs, have degrees in their home country, and/or be English language learners.

  • Undocumented Students: An undocumented student is a domestic student who: (1) entered the United States without inspection; (2) entered legally as a nonimmigrant but then overstayed their visa, lost their status, and remained in the United States without authorization; (3) has Deferred Action Childhood Arrival (“DACA”) status or has previously had DACA; or (4) is otherwise currently in the process of legalizing.³
  • Refugee Students: A refugee student is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. For the purposes of this guide, we are referring to those who currently hold, or entered the U.S. on, refugee status. Note that refugees are eligible to adjust status to legal permanent residence 1 year after arrival

This guide may be helpful in supporting other displaced students who may have varying immigration statuses, such as TPS-holder, asylee, or humanitarian parolee. Eligibility for in-state tuition, financial aid and scholarships will vary based on status

Overview of Topics Covered

If you are interested in receiving more up to date information about undocumented and refugee students, sign up to receive immigration related updates by:


National Immigration Forum

Immigrants Rising

Informed Immigrant


Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration