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State Data

Higher education in the U.S. benefits from the participation of immigrant and international students. First and second-generation individuals comprise 31% of all students enrolled in higher education, a growing figure that underscores the importance of immigrant-origin students in the classroom and our workforce.

All Students in Higher Education in California2,737,000
First-Generation Immigrant Students387,000
Second-Generation Immigrant Students1,099,000
International Students138,393

Note: First-generation immigrants were born abroad and immigrated to the U.S. Second-generation immigrants are U.S.-born individuals with at least one immigrant parent. First-generation immigrants include undocumented immigrants. First-generation immigrants do not include international students on a visa.

The U.S. is home to more than 408,000 undocumented students enrolled in higher education. In their pursuit of higher education, undocumented students actively ready themselves to fill critical skill shortages and become better positioned to support their families, communities, and the U.S. economy.

Undocumented Students in Higher Education82,933
DACA-Eligible Students in Higher Education38,383
Non-DACA Eligible Students in Higher Education44,326
Undocumented Students Graduating High School Each Year14,000

Note: Undocumented students are a sub-group of first-generation students.

International students comprise only 4 percent of all students in higher education, but provide significant economic, academic and cultural contributions that enrich learning, enrollment and funding opportunities for American students.

International Students in Higher Education138,393
Economic Contributions of International Students in the State$6.0 billion
Jobs Supported by International Students in the State55,167
Optional Practical Training (OPT) Participants44,536

Note: Optional Practical Training participants are a subgroup of international students.

Immigrant residents, including undocumented immigrants and DACA-eligible residents, play an important role in the state's economy, contributing spending power and paying federal, state, and local taxes.

All Immigrant Residents in California10,468,272
Immigrant Share of Total Population26.7%
Undocumented Immigrants in State1,892,525
DACA-Eligible Residents in State231,347
Spending Power of DACA-Eligible Residents$5.9 billion
DACA-Eligible Residents Federal Tax Contributions$1.1 billion
DACA-Eligible Residents State and Local Tax Contributions$726.2 million

Note: DACA-eligible residents are a sub-group of undocumented immigrant residents.

Higher education helps prepare all students, including immigrant and international students, to fill critical career and skills needs.

State Immigrant Workers Fill Critical Skills Needs
Share of STEM Workers Who Are First-Generation Immigrants39.6%
Share of Nurses Who Are First-Generation Immigrants36.1%
Share of Health Aides Who Are First-Generation Immigrants45.2%
DACA recipients in STEM or Health Professions8,579
DACA recipients in Education (K-12, Higher Education, Education Industry)9,211
First-Generation Immigrant Faculty and Staff in Colleges, Universities and Professional Schools134,644
Share of First-Generation Immigrants With a Postsecondary Credential55%

Note: First-generation immigrants were born abroad and immigrated to the U.S.

You can find additional state data, including by congressional district, in the following resources by immigrant population (NAE) and international students (NAFSA).

State Policies

Evaluating Access for Undocumented Students & Refugee Students

State policies in four key areas – in state tuition, state financial aid, professional and occupational licensure, and driver licenses – play an important role in expanding access to higher education and workforce development for undocumented students. The section below on in-state tuition also includes policies related to refugee students.

  • In-State Tuition & State Financial Aid Access and Affordability

    Comprehensive Access: Policies provide statewide access to in-state tuition and some state financial aid or scholarships for the state's resident DACA recipients and undocumented students.

  • Professional & Occupational Licensure Workforce Entry & Eligibility

    Comprehensive Access: Policies allow individuals to obtain occupational licensure in all professions regardless of their immigration status, provided that they meet all other requirements.

  • Driver Licenses & Identification Mobility

    Accessible: Policies provide the state’s undocumented residents with access to driver licenses and/or state identification regardless of their immigration status, but these are not REAL ID compliant.

Enacted Policies

California provides eligible undocumented residents, including DACA recipients, with access to in-state tuition, state financial aid, professional and occupational licensure, and driver licenses and state identification.

In-State Tuition

California Assembly Bill (A.B.) 540, signed into law on October 12, 2001, allows eligible undocumented students living in California to access in-state tuition. California Assembly Bill (A.B.) 2000, signed into law on September 27, 2014, and Senate Bill (S.B.) 68, signed into law on October 5, 2017, expand the scope of eligibility for in-state tuition. Students must meet certain requirements to access in-state tuition, including:

  1. Attend a California high school, adult school, or community college for at least three years or the equivalent; or
  2. Graduate from a California high school, attain an equivalent GED, or fulfill minimum transfer requirements from a community college to a UC or CSU campus;
  3. File an affidavit, the California Nonresident Exemption Request, stating that they meet the requirements for in-state tuition and will obtain legal status as soon as they are eligible.

Please click here for more detailed information on eligibility requirements.

California A.B. 2000 expands eligibility for in-state tuition to students who graduate early from a California high school before completing the three-year high school requirement, usually through participation in an accelerated learning program. AB 2000 allows students to access in-state tuition if they completed the equivalent of three or more years of high school coursework and attended a California elementary or secondary schools for a total of three or more years.

S.B. 68 expands in-state tuition to students who complete three or more years of attendance or the equivalent in credits while enrolled in a California high school, adult school, community college, or a combination of those schools.

On September 23, 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsom approved SB 1141 which expands the AB 540 eligibility by removing the two-year cap for credits at a California Community College. This bill allows students to use three years of full-time credits from a California Community College to meet the attendance requirements for AB 540. Additionally, SB 1141 permits more community college students to pay in state tuition at California public colleges and universities and has been effective since January 1, 2023.

Refugee In-State Tuition: There are 3 main college systems in California: (1) University of California (“UC”); (2) California State University (“CSU”); (3) community colleges (“CCC”) that each have different policies related to refugee access to in-state tuition.

  • University of California: The University of California policy grants in-state tuition to refugees upon meeting residency and other requirements. 
  • California State University: CSU’s policy classifies refugees as eligible for in-state tuition after one year of California residency. 
  • Community Colleges: California passed Assembly Bill A.B. 343 (Cal.Educ.Code § 68075.6) on October 5, 2017, which provides: “A student of the California Community Colleges who has a special immigrant visa that has been granted a status under Section 1244 of Public Law 110-181 or under Public Law 109-163, or is a refugee admitted to the United States under Section 1157 of Title 8 of the United States Code, and who, upon entering the United States, settled in California, shall be exempt from paying the nonresident tuition fee required by Section 76140 for the length of time he or she lives in this state up to the minimum time necessary to become a resident.” 
State Financial Aid

California provides eligible undocumented students, including DACA recipients, with access to state financial aid, scholarships, and educational loans. California Assembly Bill (A.B.) 131, signed into law in October 2011, provides undocumented students with access to state-based financial aid. California Assembly Bill (A.B.) 130, signed into law in July 2011, allows undocumented students living in California to access non-state funded scholarships. Both laws are known as the California Dream Act.

California Senate Bill (S.B.) 1210, the California DREAM Loan Program, signed into law in September 2014, establishes an educational loan program for eligible undocumented students.

California extends financial aid to both public and private postsecondary institutions.

Please click here for more detailed information on eligibility requirements.

Professional & Occupational Licensure

California allows individuals to obtain professional and occupational licensure regardless of their immigration status.

California Senate Bill (S.B.) 1159, signed into law in September 2014, allows individuals who complete the necessary training and other state licensing requirements to obtain professional licenses, independent of their immigration status. Applicants without a Social Security Number (SSN) can provide an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) when seeking a professional license.

California Assembly Bill (A.B.) 595, signed into law in August 2019, allows a student enrolled in a community college class pursuant to an apprenticeship training program or an internship training program who does not have an SSN to use an ITIN for purposes of any background check required by the class or program.

Additional Policies

California Senate Bill (S.B.) 695, signed into law in September 2018, prohibits licensing boards from requiring an individual to disclose their citizenship or immigration status for the purpose of obtaining professional licensure. The bill requires the Commission on Teacher Credentialing to authorize the use of ITINs in lieu of SSNs for the purpose of credentialing. The bill also requires the Department of Public Health to accept ITINs for certification applications. California Assembly Bill (A.B.) 2184, signed into law in September 2018, requires local governments to accept a California driver’s license or identification number, an ITIN, or municipal identification number in lieu of a SSN for the issuance of a business license.

California Senate Bill (S.B.) 788, signed into law in October 2017, allows the Insurance Commissioner to accept ITINs in lieu of SSNs from licensure applicants.

California Professional Licensure Requirements & Business Registration

To learn more about  professional/occupational licensure requirements, review TheDream.US & Immigrant Finance Resource guide here

To learn more about state business and tax registration requirements, review TheDream.US & Immigrant Finance Resource guide here. 

The information in these guides is based on outreach to the state’s specific licensing boards and each state’s business and tax agencies from April to July 2023 and is subject to change. To get up to date information on requirements, individuals should verify with the appropriate state agency. 

Driver Licenses

Undocumented immigrants living in California are eligible to obtain a driver license. Assembly Bill (A.B.) 60, signed into law on October 3, 2013, permits all eligible undocumented residents to obtain a driver license or state identification card.

DACA recipients in California are also allowed to obtain a driver license or state identification card.


The following narratives highlight stories of immigrant, refugee, and international students, alumni, and scholars, including in their own words or as shared publicly.

  • Narrative

    Student Narrative: Cristina Constantino

    Cristina Constantino is a public middle school Spanish teacher. She helps her students see themselves in the curriculum and embrace the language of their native countries.

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  • Narrative

    Student Narrative: Isabel Shantal Robles

    Isabel Shantal Robles received her Masters in Social Work. This has allowed her to work for public social services and help children and families through challenges.

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  • Narrative

    Student Narrative: Nallely Panduro Romayor

    Nallely Panduro is an immigrant rights paralegal, helping immigrants seek relief from deportation. As a DACA recipient, Nallely understands the importance of serving vulnerable community members.

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Effective Practices and State Resources

Spotlight on effective practices and policy, research, or community-based state resources.

  • Research

    Undocumented Students in Higher Education

    The new estimates show there are more than 408, 000 undocumented students enrolled in postsecondary education, representing about 1.9 percent of all postsecondary students. This estimate represents a decrease of 4.2 percent from 2019, when 427,000 undocumented students were enrolled.

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  • Effective Practice

    California Based Resources for Undocumented Students

    Resources cover a variety of topics related to the state of California, including state tuition and financial aid.

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  • Effective Practice

    Undocumented Graduate and Professional Students Handbook

    A handbook for undocumented graduate and professional students.

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